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.