Thursday, November 17, 2011

Back to the "action"!

At last, our hero Iron Will makes good on his promise to the heroic Defender to go and bother people in the park! Action! Adventure!

Okay, so as an official I'm-not-sure-what-my-job-title-is, my first job is to go and bother suspicious-looking characters in the park for the leader of the world's premier superhero team, who's too busy standing in the middle of the sidewalk about a quarter mile away to do it himself. Fair enough, I suppose, I'm the new guy. Let's get this done.

I'm not really familiar with the various gangs at large in Millennium City, but judging by the matching vests and the fact that one of them has no fewer than ten knives clearly visible on his person, I'm guessing Defender means these guys. They're kind of just hanging out in the park at night minding their own business, but I suppose I might as well do as I'm told and question them.

I approach one in as non-threatening a manner as possible. "Excuse me..." says I.

He immediately stabs me with a combat knife while his buddy starts shooting me in the chest with some sort of a large calibur handgun, both resulting in an anticlimactic series of metallic clinking sounds.

Now, I consider myself a relatively patient person in general, but their use of deadly force in lieu of a "hello" back has brought me around to Defender's way of thinking in regards to these particular citizens hanging out in the neighborhood park. What if KIDS were playing here, man? Some kids die when you shoot them ONCE!

So I go about bludgeoning everybody I see with a certain kind of vest on to death with weighted steel fists. Superheroically.

About half a dozen utterly one-sided clobberings later, they finally deign to talk to me.

Huh. So apparently, some guy I've never heard of told them to back up some guys in purple against cops or superheroes.

My keen detective mind is sensing a clue here. Having had no idea what the other gang might look like until a few seconds ago, I wander through the park in search of some guys in purple, and find them over by the fountain, again mostly minding their own business.

Once again, I'm treated to an alarmingly sudden attempt on my life.

Several minutes of ineffective gun violence and horrifically effective fisticuffs later, the purple gang agrees to give me the time of day too.

Once again, somebody I've never heard of has told these guys to come here and not fight with the bikers. Near as I can tell, this means approximately squat.

The important thing to focus on, though, is that I, not unlike Batman, have successfully beaten up bad guys and intimidated them into giving me information. Swaggering a little, I head over to the nearest Socrates terminal to report my findings.

Socrates claims that it has information from an anonymous caller that the Purple Gang, which is apparently the gang's real, chosen name, is extorting money from the local vendors in the park. Naturally, they're careful never to do so when a police officer or superhero is around, so they don't have any hard evidence. What Socrates suggests I do is disguise myself and see if I can get them to do something illegal in front of me.

I have my suspicions. First, an anonymous call doesn't seem like a very trustworthy source, and second, Socrates doesn't seem like a very trustworthy source. Still, I did just spend the last ten minutes in open warfare with these guys and came out of it with nary a scratch, so I suppose that in the worst case scenario I'll be discovered and shot at ineffectually. Fair enough! I head back across the street to the park to see about finding a disguise.

"I need your clothes, your boots, and your flower cart."

I talk to one of the flower vendors across the street and ask if I can borrow a uniform. He tells me that he has a family and a business to think of. I insist I'll protect him. He says the gang members know where he lives. I tell him that's almost certainly a bluff. Finally, he agrees to give me a spare uniform so that these guys will rough me up, too. Score!

I was expecting a simple vest and hat, but bizarrely, the uniform comes complete with pants, shoes, a wig, and enough Caucasian skin-toned makeup to cover every inch of exposed skin. I um... I have no idea what this flower company is about, but I'm fairly certain that I'll have to start investigating them almost immediately after I'm done investigating the purple gang. But either way, it's one of the most undeniably effective disguises I've ever seen when I'm done.

I certainly wouldn't recognize me.

Almost as soon as I get back to the park, one of the guys in the purple suits waves me over, calling me "new guy". Here we go!

He tells me to put my profits in my wallet and walk over the sewer grate to the west of the fountain, then to drop my wallet. And, of course, to remember that he knows where I live.

Alright, that's all the clue I need. I haul off and cave in his sternum with a right hook, and somehow in the process not only tear my new uniform to shreds but also slough off every inch of makeup I'd so carefully applied earlier.

See, this is why I can't have nice things.

Alright, that done, I head over for to the fountain and look for this sewer grate. I figure if I can squeeze through it (or, more likely, smash through it) and wait at the bottom, then I should be able to find out who's been collecting all this money. Brilliant plan, if I do say so myself. Just as I'm about to pry up the grate, though, I get a call from Defender.

... Oh. Good. Defender's coming with. That'll make this way less annoying.

I sigh, plug my nose, and drop down into the sewers beneath Millennium City. It's all for a good cause, I keep telling myself.

Up Next: Showdown in the sewer! Good enough for the ninja turtles, good enough for me.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


More Iron Will coming soon (probablymaybe) as I'm finally done, as of about thirty seconds ago, with grad school applications. Still gotta go to Kinkos, photocopy some manuscripts, send some pre-addressed envelopes and letters to some recommenders, but by and large I should have significantly more free time this coming month than this last month.

In the meanwhile, two superheroes-in-video-games related things have happened.

ONE, the famous (or at least it used to be) MMORPG City Of Heroes has gone free to play after more than seven years running.

TWO, the wishes-it-was-famous MMORPG D.C. Universe Online has gone free to play after... erm, nearly ten months running.

At first, I figured I'd try them both. I'd already played City Of Heroes a few years back, and only really stopped because the subscription price wasn't worth the amount I was playing, so I knew it was at least entertaining. At just under four gigabytes, the download took most of a day on my connection, but it wasn't anything I couldn't handle.

DC Universe Online, on the other hand, wants a whopping 30 gigabytes of hard drive space, which not only would take my connection about a week to finish, but would require that I delete every other game that I have and probably a decent chunk of my music too. So, for that reason, I didn't get around to trying DCUO until I was at one of my friends' houses who already had it. More on that later.

My short-for-the-sake-of-short review of City Of Heroes is...! I forgot how very slow this game is.

That's really the only bad thing I can say about it. The character creation isn't as good as Champions', but it's also five years older, and it's still pretty damn good. The graphics aren't great but aren't terrible either, and it animates smoothly, which is more important than detail level, personal opinion. I was a little annoyed that I had to choose a class to pigeonhole my guy's roll into, but again, that's pretty much industry standard for MMO's and it's only because I'm used to the freedom of Champions character creator that I found it constrictive.

But when you actually get into the game and start playing, everything slows down. I logged back in on my old Centurion and spent the better part of an hour working my way through a single warehouse and beating up maybe twenty guys.

See, City of Heroes' combat system is based entirely on cooldowns. You have an array of moves... how many depends on your level, in Centurion's case about five... that you click to activate, no real surprises there. And then they go grey until the cooldown wears off. The thing is, you can go through all five before the first one has cooled down, and the ones that do a respectable amount of damage take four or five times longer. We're talking literally ten or fifteen seconds, here.

Not only that, but there's an energy bar that using your powers eats up. A lot of games have the same thing, of course, but unlike Champions or the rage bar in World Of Warcraft, though, the energy bar doesn't replenish itself when you use your "regular" moves. You literally run out and have to sit there and wait for it to fill up enough to hit the guy again. So even when the cooldown of your decent move is over, sometimes you can't use it if you've been doing anything but waiting in the meanwhile. This effectively limited me to fighting one enemy at a time, or two weak ones, because otherwise the majority of the fight would be spent waiting to build up the nerve to punch them while they just ineffectually flailed at my head.

On top of that, the HP damage of your powers is pitiful. The Centurion, here, is level 28. The level cap, I believe, is 50, so he's mid-range by this point. Most of his powers still do less than ten HP of damage, and the average opponent has north of 200 HP. He has some better ones that do 30 or 40, but those are the ones with the ten second cooldowns. So what you wind up with is a comedically slow-paced fight in which two guys square off against each other... one an invincible flying superhero, the other a low-level enforcer in the mob... and punch each other every three or four seconds until finally, after being hit a dozen or so times, the regular human guy folds.

Now, maybe not an enforcer for the mob, but I can bring a guy down in a dozen solid punches to his vitals IN REAL LIFE. With the super power of ten push-ups every morning. Presumably this sort of combat system would work in some sort of boxing match MMO, but I felt less superheroic playing this superhero game than I do after replacing a flat tire.

Although the flight's nice. You seem to fly significantly faster in City Of Heroes than in either Champions or DC Universe Online, which, while not enough to make the game entertaining on it's own, is a pretty important ingredient.

Anyway, I tried my best to make an Iron Will in the City Of Heroes costume editor, but it just doesn't look right. Here he is chilling with The Statesman.

But he's shiny! He's shiny like Will. That's something.

And here he is waiting around for his next chance to punch one of the alien circulatory system guys. It'll be about two more seconds.

So, while I did like City Of Heroes back in the day, it struck me as insufferably slow this time around, for whatever reason. Maybe I just don't have the attention span that I used to and the concept of playing the same mission in a video game for an hour is more repugnant than it used to be, but I can't really picture a non half-asleep/baked state of mind where I'd want to focus on this.

So, I moved the desktop icon into my "half-asleep/baked" folder and set my sights on DCUO.

The character creator in DCUO is oddly less impressive than either of the others (the others being Champions and City of Heroes) but still a few steps up from the "pick your face, pick your hair" ones that many MMOs get by on. The way they organize your options is really irritating, though. Like, for a male hero, you really only have three body types: giant hunchbacked monster, vaguely human, and creepy alien/cartoon child. However, since they don't let you alter their dimensions manually at all, they give you large, medium, and small options for each, making it appear as if you have nine body types to choose from. The problem persists in the details sections: you can't, for example, select a beard and select dreadlocks, you have to scroll down through afro, afro with sideburns, afro with goatee, afro with beard, afro with soul patch, crew cut, crew cut with sideburns, crew cut with goatee... until you get to "dreadlocks with a beard" some forty redundant options down.

They also only let you have three colors for your entire costume, and then you get to pick which costume pieces get which color. On the one hand, it makes for good looking matching color schemes whether you could have made one on your own or not, but on the other hand, let me make my goofy rainbow character if I want to, game.

Nevertheless, while more limited than either other superhero MMO, it had more or less the costume parts I was looking for to remake The Centurion, and while it wasn't quite as close to the mark as his Champions incarnation, he still looked pretty badass.

Alas, there were no options for a non-comedically-small-head other than the one where he looked like an alien, but overall I'm pretty happy with the look, allowing for most games' disheartening lack of corinthian helmets.

The power selection was also disappointing. Like really, really disappointing. There are only five powers to choose from, and they all seem to be some variety of "shoot energy in various directions and patterns" powers. I could be an ice guy, a fire guy, a magic guy, a nature guy (the animation had vines whipping around, which could be kinda cool but totally doesn't fit) and a gadgets guy, and that was it. Super Strength, by far the most common superpower in the entire DC Universe and the primary power of more than half the Justice League... isn't an option. So for some dumb reason, The Centurion had fire powers. I rolled my eyes, changed his backstory to being a newly-powered Centurion cosplayer rather than the Centurion himself, and went with it.

Problem is, I couldn't name him Centurion. Or The Centurion. In City Of Heroes I had to make do with "The.Centurion", but in DCUO that's illegal. No punctuation, no extra spaces, no creative ways around the fact that there's only one server (well, two, one for pve and one for pvp) on which every decent name has been taken for months. After several minutes of intentional misspellings and then even different names I made up on the spot, all of which (including "Allthegoodnamesaretaken") were taken, I just named him AGLKJSF so I could play the damn game. That wasn't his original random jumble of letters name, of course... ASDFG was taken.

DCUO starts out, like City of Heroes and Champions before it, with an alien invasion. I dunno, it's an easy way to get everyone going, I guess. 'Cept in this one it's Brainiac, and you've already been abducted, and have to fight your way out of a ship by repeatedly clicking with your mouse.

That's kinda where it loses me. See, DCUO is pretty obviously designed for a console controller. Running around with the left stick while mashing the A and B buttons to repeatedly punch the bad guys is the kinda thing that I'm used to on a console, but repeatedly clicking the left and right mouse buttons seems more obnoxious. Add to that the lack of auto targeting and the fact that the enemies move around a lot, and you have to drag the mouse to keep facing them while at the same time clicking both mouse buttons over and over again. It would work with a little joystick and separate buttons, but it's mostly aggravating with a mouse. None of the enemies were terribly challenging, so I still made it through, but I spent most of my time re-aiming AGLKJSF at the enemy units rather than punching them.

Then Superman busts in and helps rescue you from the ship, though, and you feel a little bit better about everything.

This is a particularly proud moment for me, as The Centurion's first mission ever, written in a spiral-bound notebook at the tender young age of seven, I think, involved him fighting back-to-back with Superman against kryptonite-wielding robots. Th...The fact that they had kryptonite weaponry meant that Superman needed help from a non-kryptonian superhero, see! The Centurion always had comparable strength and speed to Superman, but his lack of heatvision, freezebreath, x-ray vision, etc. put him clearly behind the Man Of Steel in any legitimate contest of skill. Even back then I knew it was lame to try to one-up established protagonists.

If Captain Marvel had burst in within the next couple seconds, I would have deleted my other stuff and downloaded this game immediately. (The three operated as a trio at least twice, see.) Alas, he did not.

Back in Metropolis, the graphics continued to impress, and I admit that I spent a good ten minutes flying around the city whilst looping John Williams' Superman Theme, but the combat controls were just too awkward, and I couldn't get past the fact that The Centurion's... pardon me, AGLKJSF's... main attack was a burst of flame.

I think the game could have some potential, mind, with a different approach. Namely, a console controller and a desire to play an energy-projecting character. I'd have tried it out with a few different characters if it had been my own computer, and tried to get used to the constant clicking while trying to reorient with the mouse. But, coming in with a specific character concept in mind, it was quite disappointing.

The costume editor did allow for a decent Iron Will, though.

Not quite as good as the Champions one, due largely to the weird torso anatomy (not optional, thereby not my fault, remember!) and limited clothing options, but pretty close, I think. And gave me an excuse to check out the other starting city, Gotham.

... Coooool...

Anyway, next week or two, back to Champions. Unless something unforeseen comes up with all the paperwork. So probably. Maybe. Possibly.



Monday, October 17, 2011

Descent Into The Night Club Scene

I'm not sure just yet, but it appears as if Cryptic has fixed whatever issue was making the launcher fail to load every time and I can play the game again! Either that or one of my random little computer tweaks somehow made the stars align just right so that it would work again. Either way! Where were we?

A superhero nightclub, eh? Well that's a uniquely Millennium City bit of nightlife culture. I decide to go check it out.

... Maybe I'm a bit underdressed for this.

I head back to the tailor standing all of thirty feet behind me to see if I can't get some clubwear. The tailor's selection is amazing! She's got full suits, ties, vests, formalwear, businesswear, business casual, etcetera... there's clothing here for every occasion...!

... I realize about halfway through picking out an outfit that I really only have enough money for a new shirt or new pants.

Considering that my current pants are the same shredded pair of jeans that ice demons have gnawed on, mutants have microwaved, a building has collapsed on top of, and have been within a quarter mile of a nuclear explosion, I figure that they won't really go with any new shirts I could pick out and opt for a new pair of pants and some actual shoes instead. I don't really get cold since I turned into metal anyway.

Avoiding the eyes of the customer behind me, who would just happen to be the best dressed man in Millennium City and seems visibly offended by my very presence, I wander back over to the nightclub, hoping that the bouncers will let me in as I'm in half compliance with the shoes and shirts required rule.


So I'm standing in an intentionally dimly lit hallway leading up to a large poster of the same woman whose picture appears above the door, presumably Caprice herself. The hallway seems to branch in two directions, one towards a lounge and one towards a dance floor.

Well, I'm here, might as well check out both!
Club Caprice has two main areas, a crimson-colored lounge with a fountain, and a large dance floor with two bars. There's a significant aesthetic difference between the two, but mechanically, neither one has anything special going on. Both exist primarily as empty spaces in which players can interact with each other, and both contain a smattering of NPC characters who will talk amongst themselves or dance, depending on the room.

There's really nothing to do in either room except talk with other players, which can be fairly entertaining or entirely dull depending on the night. Sometimes there are friendly people around who want to get into an in-character conversation for the diversion, and sometimes there are a bunch of people standing around mostly silent or small groups of friends talking amongst themselves and largely ignoring the room. In my experience, most of the time it's the latter. And of course, if you show up as a female, more people will talk to you, but that's kinda just weird. ... So, in other words, they've done a nearly perfect job of recreating the experience of going to a bar or dance club by yourself in real life. Nicely done, Cryptic!

Well evidently being made out of metal doesn't make it any easier to make friends at a nightclub than before, or at least not a nightclub that caters specifically to superheroes. I have a few drinks and wind up dancing a while on the dance floor near some other folks, but I start feeling awkward and leave after a little bit. I might have better luck in a club where a living statue is the most interesting thing to walk in in a given half-hour period, but this is not that place.

Alright, back out into the fresh air. The night's still young, after all, and there's no reason to spend it all being awkward in the corner of some dance club. Besides, I keep thinking there was something I was supposed to do.

... Oh, right. Save the world from dastardly park strollers.

I suppose I'm all out of excuses to procrastinate this any longer. Time to go be obnoxious to some guys that haven't done anything yet, I guess.

UP NEXT: This superhero thing is a walk in the park.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

On Original Character Concepts: The Cautionary Tale Of Sunspot

On the other hand, there are those rare characters that you think are a totally original concept but which are, entirely unbeknownst to you, actually a complete ripoff of something else. Next to "but it's an homage!" ignorance is probably the single most common excuse for blatant imitations of existing characters, and it seems like nobody ever believes the artist/writer/gamer in question, as the odds against somebody just coincidentally coming up with the exact same idea as an established creator are so very high.

Me, I think it's perfectly likely, at least to a point. As I mentioned a few days ago, there are at least three characters out there named Ironclad, all of whom are super strong, super durable guys coated in or made out of metal. As the name, originally a class of warship, quite self-evidently means "covered in iron" it's a really intuitive name for a character who's covered in metal and difficult to hurt, which in turn is a fairly basic concept that one could arrive at whether or not they were familiar with other characters that already used said concept. Therefore, if somebody came along and made a character named Ironclad who was super strong and made out of metal, I wouldn't automatically assume that they were copying the Ironclad who appears in Champions Online, for example. A super strong metallic character named Ironclad who was an alien gladiator? Still totally plausible, alien gladiatorial arena's a pretty common trope. A super strong metallic character named Ironclad who was an alien gladiator and got his abilities in an alien lab explosion, escaped, became a gladiator on an entirely different planet, escaped, and crash landed on Earth? Well, okay, that's suspicious, but you see what I mean.

Take me for example. I was making up a character for the Champions Online beta a good two years ago at this point and was sort of brainstorming backgrounds and ideas. It's pretty easy to make a character and just go, but I have this compulsive need to come up with at least a brief backstory or concept to go along with them, if for no other reason than I keep thinking I'm going to make comics someday and I might want to use them, or something.

I thought a solar-powered superhero was a neat idea. Granted, it's been done already; the most famous and arguably the first superhero ever gets his powers from the Earth's yellow sun. And farbeit for me to criticize anything about Superman, but super strength, speed, and invulnerability just didn't seem to be that thematically linked to the sun, to me. Heatvision did, but that was about it. I figured a solar-powered superhero would have more heat or energy related abilities, like the ability to get really hot and melt through things or breathe fire or make things glow or something. And, of course, fly, because any kind of energy projection could be used to propel oneself, and in comic book physics generating sufficient propulsion to beat gravity is only marginally harder than generating enough friction to create heat.

So I had this idea for a character who really only had one ability, to absorb and release sunlight and other ambient energy sources, but which could be used in a number of ways. He'd be jet black from head to foot, not because of a costume but because his skin absorbs all light that touches it, but would look otherwise normal. And instead of food, he'd subsist entirely on photosynthesis, absorbing sunlight all day long and getting some meager sustenance from starlight and indoor lighting at night.

Via some possibly nonexistent science that I don't know and am unwilling to research, he would get energy from the light and radiation of the sun, but would have heat left over as waste, like people suck all the nutrients out of food to turn it into poop. So for a set amount of time each day, he'd have to bleed off that excess junk energy, either by making his skin incredibly hot or by expelling it in a directed blast through his eyes or mouth. Again, via completely made-up science, this would in effect give him a force field (as energy attacks would be absorbed and incoming projectiles would simply vaporize within 0.1 inches of his ludicrously hot skin, see) and laser-esque eyebeams, as well as the occasional ability to breathe fire, melt through things, or fly by shooting jet blasts out behind him or some such. All of which would serve the approximate equivalent biological function of using the bathroom. Brilliant! Thought I.

I figured, as absorbing light takes the place of breathing as well, he'd spend a lot of time in space where there's nothing between him and the sunlight he's absorbing and where he'd be completely invisible if not between the viewer and a star or lighted object, and it would simply be assumed that that's where he was whenever I logged off. If he were to ever have comic adventures or a really in-depth backstory, he'd be doing zany intergalactic explorey things like the Silver Surfer, since he'd be a perfectly efficient engine with an unlimited fuel supply and no practical speed limit, and cosmic radiation and lasers and the like would only feed him. But, all this and he could still be decked by a good punch to the temple, provided he didn't have time to see it coming and raise his heat-shield, of course.

So, I thought this was a really good idea. I went into the character creator and made this, which was pretty much what I had in mind, making the last-minute decision to have his eyes glow, since they were the aperture he'd be shooting his eyebeams through and it would help to give him something at least approaching a face. His mouth would glow too, I figured, if I ever drew him, though there was no option for that in the character creator. But that would at least help to give him an expressive face, and probably make him quite a bit easier to draw in the first place.

Sure, he LOOKED a little evil, but I figured that could just be a part of his story too, that he was all persecuted at first by the general mutant-hating populace who assumed he was a villain just 'cuz of weird cultural prejudices against black costumes and glowing eyes. He wouldn't really have a secret identity because he couldn't ever turn it off, and he wouldn't need a day job or anything because all of his physical needs could be taken care of with eight hours of sunbathing a day. What a great concept, thought I.

The only question was what to name him. I cycled through the obvious ones but didn't like them: Solarman? Sunboy? Solar Shadow? Dark Sun? Darkstar?

I thought of the name Sunspot while I was looking up some of the half-understood science behind his abilities. I wanted it to have something to do with the science of Black Bodies, which not only physically describe him perfectly but seem to be exactly what I was thinking of when I came up with his powers. From Wikipedia: "A black body is an idealized physical body that absorbs all incident electromagnetic radiation. Because of this perfect absorptivity at all wavelengths, a black body is also the best possible emitter of thermal radiation." I mean, that's exactly what I was thinking of, innit?

Well, a quick google search for the term brought up a fair amount of porn, but also the wikipedia article on sunspots, which mentions the black body as part of an explanation for the clear visibility of sunspots as black spots on the sun. That, I thought, was a perfect name, not to mention a really cool phenomenon.

Now, when I hear the term Sunspot, I think of this:

Which is a perfect name for a jet-black solar-based superhero. Sunspot it is, I thought.

So, I name him, choose his powers (Fire and Flight, fits perfectly) and run around as him for maybe twenty minutes before somebody asks if I was the Sunspot from X-Men.

Turns out, there's already a character named Sunspot. Not just that, but he absorbs all of his powers from the sun. Which makes him jet black. Except for his eyes and his mouth.

When I saw the pictures of him, I did remember a jet black character from way back when in an issue of X-Terminators (see him on the right?) that I read when I was about five, but he was just a super strong guy who flew around and was always surrounded by little black bubbles that didn't have anything obvious to do with the sun. Turns out it's the same character, except now they've given him solar blasts which make him pretty much the exact same concept as mine, the main difference being that he can turn back and forth into a regular person and has flying brick powers in addition to the solar blasts. Different, but alas, not really different enough to justify keeping mine around, so away he went.

BUT, I'm happy that a character of mine made it into mainstream comics. By, like, you know. Having been invented by somebody else twenty years before I came up with him.

Point is, give the benefit of the doubt to someone you think is copying something else who insists they don't know what you're talking about. AND. You should always Google your supposedly original concepts before spending too much time on them.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

On Original Character Concepts: The Evolution Of Iron Will

Aforementioned technical difficulties remain unresolved. Fortunately, I have enough random screenshots and unrelated images lying around to entertain myself, and possibly you, too!

So a lot of people... and by "a lot of" I mean "two"... have asked me where the idea for Iron Will came from, if he was a Colossus analog or if he was supposed to be the Silver Surfer or what?

The apparently long-awaited answer is: neither! I've had the basic idea for Iron Will for years, but the main inspiration for his look originally came from the Incredible Hulk video game, in which the player, as the titular character, jumps around Manhattan busting through concrete and punching cars around to one end or another. For a based-on-the-movie game, it's actually pretty good, especially considering I picked it up used for about four dollars.

Anyway, during the course of the game you fight quite a few enemies, among them a quartet of evildoers more or less equivalent to the Fantastic Four known as the U-Foes. One of them is a big bruiser type with the approximate dimensions of The Hulk whose name I didn't know at the time, and after you beat them (or fulfill some other obscure requirements, I don't remember exactly) you can unlock him as a skin for the Hulk and run around town busting through skyscrapers as a big chrome ogre rather than a big fleshy green ogre. Now, I love the Hulk... gimmicky alternate forms and multiple personalities notwithstanding... but something about running around breaking through buildings as a solid metal guy just felt better. To me, it was more intuitive; of COURSE he can run right through concrete, he's made out of harder stuff. It just looked better.

So really, this guy is the primary inspiration for Iron Will, or at least for his appearance. I didn't know anything about the character himself or his backstory or anything like that until a good while later, having assumed he was simply a throwaway bad guy designed for the video game rather than a character in the larger Marvel universe.

As it turns out, his name is Ironclad. No relation.

The main difference is, I never really intended to make a brute so much as a normal (ish) guy who had been transformed, so the proportions are totally different. And of course, ol' Iron Will doesn't have an Iron Costume or any of the involved accessories. His transformation didn't magically extend to his underwear.

So, the look of Iron Will is basically this guy, slimmed down, with clothes on. Not an entirely original visual concept, admittedly, but metallic characters are a well-used trope, and I couldn't come up with anything that was entirely original without going completely random or goofy.

And, as it turned out, somebody else had had nearly the exact same idea at some point and made another Ironclad that was much more like the design for Iron Will anyway:

Also from Marvel and also named Ironclad, this Ironclad was slimmed down, given clothes, and more or less the exact same visual concept as Iron Will except with metallic hair. If I'd known about him a year ago I probably would have scrapped the Iron Will idea altogether and gone with something else entirely, but I didn't, and I like mine better, so he stays.

Like Colossus, this Ironclad changed back and forth from a human to a metal form. I'd never heard of this guy before, but that was always something that bugged me, if just a little, about Colossus. I've always been a fan of the X-Men, see, owing largely to the 90's cartoon when I was in elementary school, and I always thought that the most compelling characters were the ones whose mutations were significant hindrances as well as advantages.

Most of the characters go on and on about how difficult it is to be a mutant, but few of the characters demonstrate it. Wolverine, for example, heals incredibly quickly, which may SOUND like an advantage in life, but on the downside he's also really strong and has an enhanced sense of smell. Storm, on the other hand, can control the goddamn weather, which might seem like nothing but a huge benefit at first, but you have to keep in mind that she's also really really attractive. Sure, Iceman can generate armor, control cold, and build potentially unlimited constructs out of ice, but when he's not covered in ice he's merely a regular person of exceptional physical fitness who can blend in with normal people anywhere.

Nah, my favorites were the disadvantaged ones like Beast, Rogue, or the under-appreciated Cyclops. You get strength and agility but you don't ever look human again, or the ability to steal other characters powers but never touch another human being, or Superman-esque eyebeams which carry the significant hindrance of never being able to look at anything with the naked eye without destroying it. Those were the interesting ones.

Long story short, I thought Colossus would have been a much more interesting character if he couldn't just drop his mutant form with all it's advantages and disadvantages whenever it was convenient and go back to being a regular human being. Like so many of Xavier's students, why a man whose unusual powers didn't come with any downsides had any need of instruction at a special school for mutants is beyond me.

Anyway, I made up a character in my head that was a super-strong, nigh-invulnerable human made out of fluid metal, but who could never turn back, and would need to hide himself when not among friends. To make him at least a little different, I'd originally conceived him as having normal tissues but invincible liquid gold blood that would tint his skin and make him invulnerable to any damage more than skin deep, but leave him feeling as soft and flexible as a regular person. I later tossed that idea when it occurred to me that non-rigid golden blood wouldn't protect his other tissues at all and that he would probably die just as fast from golden internal bleeding as regular. I usually pictured a blond guy with golden skin, more or less like the male Oracle from "Angel".

At the time, his name was "Golden Rod". I thought this was hilarious, but when I got a bit older I realized how few people are named Rodney these days and how much more likely it was that people would assume it was a dick joke.

I didn't give it a whole lot of thought, and it's not real similar to what I eventually wound up going with, but hey, I was maybe twelve. I also figured that he would be able to go outside in the daytime by wearing sweatshirts with hoods and that nobody would notice that he wasn't normal. The concept's come a long way since then... although, if we're being honest, there isn't all that much to Iron Will beyond "basically a nice guy who gets turned into metal" so I suppose I can't really say it's come a long way so much as that it's simply changed a lot.

Long story short, he has nothing to do with the Silver Surfer. He doesn't even look much like the comic version, which is what I think of when I hear the name, but the version from the movies does bear an admittedly close resemblance.

... You'll just have to take my word for it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Technical difficulties

Now, I have a fair amount of respect for Cryptic. They've put out some really good games, own the rights to some really serious franchises, and have pretty dedicated gaming communities investing a lot of time in their games. They still tend to be trailing competitors in MMO popularity and population, though, and I think one of the reasons why is that their tech support is frankly horrible.

Their recent patch has made the game quite unplayable for a number of users, myself among them, for about a week and a half due to a series of errors that prevent the launcher from loading, and despite a sizeable outcry on the forums, they've yet to resolve or even acknowledge this issue.

Their patches tend to come in pairs: there'll be a big one introducing some new feature or item, and then a few days later another one to repair all the glaring problems that the first one caused, but this is a more severe problem than most in the past have been, and it's taking them a long while to fix it.

Anyway, I haven't been on Champions for a while, but I assure you that this blog is still active. Just currently experiencing some technical difficulties.

Meanwhile, I've made an entry for Iron Will over on the Primus Database. The Primus Database is a fun little wiki for in-game heroes and villains that I forgot existed. A quick browse-through gives a pretty good impression of some of the more active members of Champions RP-community, and it's a pretty good read, personal opinion.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Second Intermission

Well three weeks is a long time to not update a blog that doesn't even require the author to go outside for research, but I've been annoyingly busy with various steps in the grad school application process and trying to find a new job. So in lieu of Iron Will's awkward evening in the RP nightclub with the vampire kids, here's another (shortened) super heroing test for yawl. Instead of The Centurion, your proctor this time around is the one and only Cyberman, assisted in some demonstrations by our good friend Buzz Kill.

Though he shares more or less the same color scheme and placement with the Centurion, Cyberman is a completely separate character dating back to 2nd grade, created as half of a duo consisting of Cyberman and his brother Roboman, who were alternately cyborgs or guys in robot suits depending on whether we'd more recently watched Robocop or an episode of Iron Man. Walking around in slow motion making metallic noises and pointing at things we'd imagine blowing up was a pretty easy game to play when the ball courts or other choicest bits of playground real estate were claimed. Originally conceived on paper as a lopsided guy in a black metal suit with bright orange oblongs for feet and hands, an orange sphere for a head with a black rectangle for eyes, and an orange chest thing that could have been a bra or a vest or a piece of metal, he actually looks pretty darn good in Champions if I do say so myself. Once I discovered that most of the powers I'd ascribed to him in grade school (aside from telescoping limbs, tragically) were selectable powers in Champions, I kinda had to.

Unlike the Centurion, who's an all around heroic guy, Cyberman's more of a mercenary. For varying pay rates, he'll fix your computer, repair your car, or destroy fully armed military targets. Whether the path of a power-armored mercenary is for you can be determined via this short quiz.


The world of private military, security, and law enforcement contracting is as complex as it is dangerous. Contrary to what you may have heard elsewhere, not every situation can be solved with the same simple solution. When encountering hostile situations in the field, your response must be measured and effective, tailored to the specific situation you find yourself in to deliver maximum results with minimum expenditure of resources and time.

Unless of course you're being paid by the hour and charging for all materials expended, which I always am, and this guide presupposes you are as well.


An attractive young woman needs to make her way through an abandoned mine and fears that there may be dangers along the way. She does not offer payment and does not appear to have any valuables to negotiate with. Should you...

A. Offer your services as bodyguard free of charge?
B. Attempt to negotiate a payment plan that can be enacted later before guiding her through the mine, leaving if she does not accept?
C. Accompany her halfway through the mine, and then name your price for accompanying her the rest of the way or back out?

Answer: A
Never underestimate the power of good press and word-of-mouth advertising. Also note that the civilian is specified to be an attractive young woman.


A plain-looking older woman needs to make her way through an abandoned mine and fears that there may be dangers along the way. She does not offer payment and does not appear to have any valuables to negotiate with. Should you...

A. Offer your services as bodyguard free of charge?
B. Attempt to negotiate a payment plan that can be enacted later before guiding her through the mine, leaving if she does not accept?
C. Accompany her halfway through the mine, and then name your price for accompanying her the rest of the way or back out?

Answer: B


During a routine sewer sweep, you are attacked by a large man wielding a pair handguns that appear to fire .44 caliber ammunition. Your armor is more than capable of shrugging off small arms fire without damage. The best tool for bringing down this opponent with minimal force is...

A. Your standard issue rechargeable nonlethal electroshock stun gun.
B. Unarmed hand-to-hand takedown procedures.
C. Maintained fire from your 6000-round-per-minute multi-barrel Gatling-style heavy rotary cannon.

Answer: C
Getting sued is a pain.


You happen upon two members of a known street gang who approach you aggressively. It is too dark to see clearly without the night vision apparatus in your helmet, and neither man appears to recognize that you are armed. Both men are unarmed and appear prepared to strike you with their bare hands, which will result in no damage to you or your armor whatsoever. The best tactic for this situation is...

A. Announcing that you are armed and will fire upon them if they continue to approach.
B. Putting up your hands and backing away slowly.
C. Twin high-powered particle beams impacting directly with an unarmored sternum at close range.

Answer: C
Time is money.


While on a fact-finding mission you are confronted by an opponent armed with a combat knife. You respond with...

A. Your bare hands. Your armor is designed to shrug off tank rounds and will not be compromised by a combat knife.
B. Your own standard-issue combat knife. Let's see who's better.
C. A goddamn chainsaw.

Answer: C
There's never a bad situation for the chainsaw.


Your team has cleared most of a building, but the last room is sealed off by a thick wooden door that has been locked from the other side. The blueprints of the building show no other way in and no ventilation ducts wide enough for a person to fit through. The best tool for getting through the door would be...

A. The automatic lock-pick gun in your glove.
B. A portable piston-powered battering ram specifically designed for effective door breaching.
C. A laser-guided anti-aircraft mini missile.

Answer: C
It's much easier to overcharge for an experimental missile than a broken lock pick.


You are charged by a mutant creature of unknown origin. Though you have tagged it with several shots already, it manages to make it within melee range without falling. Do you...

A. Just keep shooting it, it'll die eventually.
B. Attempt to sidestep it's charge.
C. Flee.

Answer: A
If brute force doesn't work, the answer is usually more brute force.


A job for a client specializing in the occult has put you into direct conflict with an unidentified fire-breathing hostile of unknown demonic origin which has managed to ignite your armor. Do you:

A. Ignore it and shoot the damn thing with a minigun.
B. Put some distance between you and your attacker and try to extinguish the flames.
C. Retreat. Magic and demons aren't the sorts of problems you can solve with guns.

Answer: A
Welcome to the 21st century, jerk.


While sabotaging an illegal weapons manufacturer, you encounter half a dozen members of a paramilitary group who engage you in a firefight. Afterwards, all combatants have been neutralized and their commanding officer is out of bullets, though he had been firing upon you previously. Do you...

A. Take the commanding officer into custody.
B. Let him go, as he is no longer any threat and cannot prevent your destroying the weapons, which are your actual target.
C. Chainsaw him through the solar plexus.

Answer: C
Dude just tried to shoot you!


You are in a firefight with a well-trained opponent armed with a machine gun. Your opponent has taken cover behind a stack of metal crates that appear capable of repelling your small arms fire. Do you...

A. Wait until he reappears to take a shot and then resume firing?
B. Destroy the entire area with a missile?
C. Attempt to negotiate his surrender verbally?

Answer: B
Better safe than mildly inconvenienced.


You have tracked down the leader of a cult which utilizes magic and other supernatural abilities. When you confront him, he begins a chant in a language you do not recognize. Do you...

A. Restrain him and gag him so that he can't complete what may be a dangerous spell?
B. Utilize your helmet computer's on-board translation program and attempt to decipher what he's saying?
C. Chainsaw in the gut.

Answer: C
God, I love this thing.


A hostile organization that you need to infiltrate is employing a small army of remote-controlled attack drones as a security force, each equipped with laser weapons but little in the way of armor. The mainframe which controls their behavior is located inside the very facility that they're guarding. You deal with them by...

A. Attacking them with your superior armor and firepower, charging your employer for the combat pay and the munitions expended in the fight.
B. Blasting through the roof and disabling them remotely by hacking into their mainframe, avoiding the unnecessary fight.
C. Blasting through the roof and disabling them remotely by hacking into their mainframe, then charging your employer for combat pay and the munitions that would have been expended in the fight.

Answer: C
Now you're getting it.

This concludes our evaluation. Results are available for a nominal consulting fee of $200.

Thanks to Buzz Kill for his help with several of the missions pictured.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Hero Games: The Zombie Apocalypse

When last we left our hero, he had been thoroughly Held and beaten in the famous Hero Games Cage Match. After such a crushing defeat, where will our ferrous fighter go next?

Alright, so, ow. Maybe cage matches aren't really my thing. Excuse me, maybe they aren't really El Fierro's thing. I feel kind of bad for him; it must be embarrassing to get beaten that badly. Not that I'd know. But there's still one more option at the Hero Games: the mysteriously titled "Zombie Apocalypse". With a fair amount of hesitation, I cross my fingers and sign up for that one.

The Zombie Apocalypse Hero Game used to be one of my favorite parts of the game before they patched it to kill everyone right away. It is my enduring hope that they'll someday repair it.

In Zombie Apocalypse, everybody is put into a cabin full of civilian survivors with the goal of going outside and defending them from an incoming zombie horde, except for one player chosen at random who starts out as a zombie. There is no difference mechanically between your normal character and your character as a zombie, except you'll be given one of about half a dozen random zombie "costumes" to distinguish yourself from the living players. This, for example, is how Iron Will looked when he started on the zombie side.

He certainly looks like a zombie superhero, doesn't look much like a zombie Iron Will. Understandable, as there are so many options available in the costume creator that trying to make some kinda automatic "zombification" costume change for each individual character would probably look ridiculous more often than cool. Anyway, as a zombie, your goal is pretty simple: make your way to the cabin and try to kill all of the other players. It seems fairly difficult at first, as you're outnumbered at the beginning except for hordes of simplistic zombie NPCs that you fairly obviously stand out from. But, each survivor that you kill revives as another zombie hero on your side. The very beginning is the toughest part as a zombie, but it's easier to take one out when there're two of you, and easier with three. Eventually, the balance shifts entirely, unless the survivors really have their act together and manage to take you out over and over again before you can get even one of them. If the survivors last for a full fifteen minutes (or possibly twenty... I don't recall exactly) and stay within a certain radius of the cabin, they win. It happens (or used to happen) from time to time, and since Iron Will is built almost entire for defense and doesn't have any terribly strong attacks and no range to speak of, I expected it might go that way. So I was quite pleasantly surprised and a little perplexed when it took me less than three minutes to wipe out the entire survivor team.

Now, I'd like to take credit for this, but there were a number of factors at work that I had nothing to do with. Most notably, some of the survivors I squared off with were already half dead and on fire from something I didn't see at all. I was on fire too, but that was because one of the players hit me with a fireball; Iron Will has no fire powers to speak of, so why the survivors were on fire too is beyond me. One I beat up until he ran away too fast for me to chase, and then dropped dead from the flames after about fifty feet, and another I knocked across the clearing and simply didn't see again, as they were presumably eaten by the supposedly-weak zombie NPCs while I wasn't looking. Really, there was only one other player that I felt I actually beat, and the rest probably would have fallen to the zombie NPCs whether I'd been there or not.

Now, I hadn't played the zombie apocalypse pvp for a few months, and this was not how it used to go. The zombies I remembered were more of a distraction than a threat, basically just there to keep players from getting automatic out-of-combat healing and occasionally to hold them or interrupt charge attacks if they were being too blatantly ignored. These zombies completely devoured the players, and somehow set them on fire. Very curious. The second time around, I'm one of the survivors. You start in a cozy little woodland cabin surrounded by terrified survivors and a few other superheroes that, along with you, are all that stand between them and a gruesome death. In this case, a cyborg woman and some kinda demon guy. We headed outside to meet the horde.

Outside the cabin is a snowy clearing and several other cabins that look abandoned; possibly, we're standing it what would be the middle of a dirt road if the snow weren't covering everything.

I actually think they did a really good job conveying the general atmosphere of a winter night in the mountains. It's deathly quiet except for the crackle of the burning barrel and the occasional low howl of the wind, and you can't see much beyond the street except for what's silhouetted against the sky. Snow drifts slowly to the ground all around and all the characters (including robots and skeletons and the like, but oh well) breath is visible in understated clouds around their mouths. Very nice, Champions.

There's also an indistinct yellowish dome around the cabin and surrounding area. It's only inside this dome that your time spent alive is counted; if you lived through an entire match but did so by hiding out in the woods at some random corner of the map or hovering a mile over everything, your time at the end of the match will reflect it. There's also a timer with thirty seconds on the clock that starts ticking down whenever nobody's within the circle. If all the players scatter, leaving the cabin full of civilians to fend for itself, they have thirty seconds (non-renewing) to get back or the match ends in victory for the zombies. Similarly, if they spend thirty seconds inaccessible... either by teleporting around or tunneling, or by flight so high that they're out of the dome... the zombies win. A player can still hide or TP around if there's at least one survivor left inside the circle holding down the fort for the team, but this prevents the last surviving character from just drawing the match out forever by staying underground or fleeing. Unfortunately, people often forget about it and will charge into the ranks of the zombies to get their killin' in, and then find that they've lost even though they're still alive and actively fighting the zombies, simply because they've gotten too far from the cabin. Although, considering the justification for the scenario is that we're defending the cabin in the first place, it makes good sense.

Anyway, for a minute or so nothing happens, and there's no sound but the crunch of snow under the feet of the nervous heroes running around in circles outside the cabin. Then, at the edge of the light, we start seeing the outlines of humanoid forms shambling towards us. One or two at first, but more and more as the first ones start to reach the clearing. The undead have arrived! Everyone goes to work; the summoners make their little circles and whip out their turrets and pets, the fliers go to strafe the zombies meandering into the circle, the guys who don't quite get the goal of the game run headlong into the horde to get eaten, and I post up by the door of the cabin and clobber any undead face that approach mine eye.

So far so good. Soon enough some of the bigger ones start filtering in. There are skinny ones that can can grab you with their tongues (WHICH IS A TOTALLY ORIGINAL CONCEPT), big fat ones that can bite you and hold you in place, and tall ogre-looking ones that can spit acid at you. I zero in on one of the big ones and deliver a sharp uppercut to his WHAT THE HELL WHY AM I ON FIRE?!?

I'm not quite sure what's happening. Two of my teammates have already died somewhere and I have suddenly burst into flames. It's not the zombie character; I'd caught them out of the corner of my eye fighting with one of my teammates, and they're definitely a power armor type using lasers and machine guns and the like, no fire powers. So I'm a little perplexed until I notice that the zombies are exploding. Over and over again. Not just one kind, either. Like, all of them.

Apparently since the last time I played the zombie apocalypse scenario somebody at the company decided that giving the survivors a chance at winning the game was stupid, and it was much more entertaining for people to start dying the second the game starts and for the only goal to be outliving the rest of your doomed companions. I'm pretty sure I strongly disagree, if for no other reason than because the premise we're working under is that we're trying to protect the people in the cabin, and making that an impossible scenario is kinda bullshit. As the last of my teammates drops, burning and presumably confused, there's really no reason for me to do anything but hightail it into the woods and let the zombies win by running out the clock, but I can't just abandon all those people in the cabin, I decide. I'm surrounded by the ravenous undead and I'm the only thing standing between a dozen innocent people and a horrible death by supernatural cannibalism. The time for half measures and talk is over. This situation calls for desperate tactics. I don't like it, but once again I'm forced to resort to...

There! That ought to...

... What? NO BALLS?! Damn you, decomposition!

And I fall.

But, I fall last, at almost three whole minutes in, which I guess is the closest you can come to winning this game, now. Pretty disappointing; they were really on to something when they first introduced it.

Alright, that was one of the most unpleasant simulations I think anyone could have concocted, but I suppose it was pretty exciting. Never been a fan of horror movies myself, though, and that seemed to be more or less the holographic simulation equivalent.

Well, it's late, I'm humiliated and borderline traumatized, and even though it wasn't real, I swear I can still smell zombie on my fists. On the plus side, I have a luchador costume that I'm definitely holding on to, so the evening wasn't a complete waste. I wander back to the Bank And Trust and fold my mask and cape into my safety deposit box as surreptitiously as I can. A luchador isn't ever supposed to remove his mask, I think, but then, I'm not a full-time luchador. In fact, I, Iron Will, have never even met El Fierro, that handsome devil. Shhh.

My brief experiment with the Hero Games over, or at least on hold, I walk back out into the Renaissance Center. I swear I'll swing by that park and bother those guys for Defender first thing tomorrow, but first I want to check out the one place on Socrates' tour that I haven't been to yet: this Club Caprice place. It looks... interesting, at least.

I wonder if they'll let me in.

Up Next: A night out on the town, the MIND-BLOWING CONCLUSION!