The Epic Legends: The Beautiful Game – Part Two

The next cycle saw great changes in the guild, the ancient ancestral ties to 1up and the Legendary Thread podcast were severed, I became pretty well liked.  I didn’t beg for officer status, well, not much.  Eventually I even got it, though the person who promoted me was drunk beyond reckoning at the time.  Drunk Vent Saturdays became a thing.  Raiding, endgame content, actually was within our grasp.  We had our bumps along the way, some people left the game, some people left for greener pastures in more hardcore raiding guilds.  CQY endured, though.

Online communities founded by those with “internet fame” have a curse, I’ve noticed.  The people who join them initially will all be there out of common purpose, which is mostly to slob the knobs of whoever created the thing.  As time goes by people get to know each other, and the founders lose interest, seeing as they usually are internet famous for a reason that doesn’t involve wrangling hundreds of nerds into behaving. They can flame out in a glorious dramabomb, tearing themselves apart until the adults in the room leave and all that remains for them is the strong notion that anonymity is priceless.  More often they simply slow down until nobody cares anymore.

CQY was different.  The spirit of our foundation, to be a support group, the anti-guild guild, endured long after Andrew Pfister, known as Okonoko in the guild, had left.  He himself never did take that character all the way to level 60.  What he created, though, changed my life.  Even saved it.

During that same drunken saturday chat on our vent server, the guild leader and his wife made plans to host a number of friends from the guild in New York City.  Given the blood alcohol level of that conversation I doubted it would ever happen but one day I logged on and, holy shit, they were all getting together in Brooklyn.  I’d risen in stature quite a bit.  So much so that one of the earliest members, Garu, was now my roommate.  He was working an internship near where I lived, and I had a spare room.  Another member of the old guard was going to be driving up from North Carolina and picking him up to go to New York for the weekend.  My first feelings were of slight bitterness, after all, I was a member too, and my apartment was a stop on the way, there was no reason for me not to be invited.

Well, except for all that bad behavior.

I took a chance, and I asked if, seeing as my roommate was going anyway, I could tag along.  I was permitted on two conditions: One, I bring extra pillows and towels.  Two, I bring liquor.  Happily obliging, I took a leap of faith.  It wasn’t without risk, I was very wary of how I would be received.  The hosts themselves, were in fact wary as well.  It had all the makings of a disaster.  The party-crashing guy who no one really liked would ruin a really good vacation for a lot of people he wished he was friends with.  The closer we got to New York the more that fear ate at me.

When we arrived, late at night, blasting “No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn” (though that might have just been me, in my mind) the drinking had already begun, for the second night in a row.  Garu, Button, and myself arrived after most, who had been there the day before.  I remember hauling pillows and a bag up the stairs, presenting some liquor (note: at the time I tended to go for quantity of alcohol not quality of drink) which was immediately ignored and put by the dog food.

“Oh shit” I began to think, “This is it, any second now the damn guild leader is going to take me aside, tell me I need to get a cab and go home”.  I felt disaster.

Nervously, I stepped onto the patio where everyone was gathered, shyly introduced myself, and began to be awkward.  And then a funny thing happened.  Nobody cared.  I knew that at least a few people were worried in the back of their minds, but I stood mostly off to the side at first, trying not to get in the way of the party.  As time went by I joined in the conversation more and more.  I found myself jumping at chances to joke with everyone.  I was even a bit smitten with the human incarnation of the Draenei Priestess I would often joke around with in game.

We learned that my roommate’s tolerance for alcohol was practically nonexistent.  We learned that our raid leader was similar, and his state of inebriation could be calculated entirely by how many shirt buttons had come undone.  Through the night he went from fully-clothed, to shirt open, to one arm out, to struggling to free his other arm, to wearing his shirt as a sash, scarf, a babushka, and even a hijab.

At the end of a very long, very drunken, very funny night in which many, many things were learned by all, I was given a hug by a tree druid.

“I’m glad you came.”

The next morning I would observe as our fearless raid leader woke up, slowly walked to a computer, updated his facebook status with “I am never drinking again.  a man was not meant to ever feel this kind of pain” and crawl back to sleep.  He would awaken again to a much larger audience, shouting out “Fuckin’ Yogg with One Keeper!”  Another moment etched into my mind in the Halls of Goofy Shit.

We would later discover in the pictures of that night, him licking the ear of my roommate.  It was a weekend I didn’t want to end.  In fact, it wouldn’t have if my roommate didn’t have a stupid job.  I still say Button and I should have put him on a bus back to Washington, pin a note to his jacket telling my father to pick him up, and drive back later, ourselves.

The guild transmuted into something more then, more than the ideal that I respected from its beginnings, rather an extended family.  We were marching down the streets of Brooklyn with people calling me Magic Sword King, it was bizarre.  My digital persona had collided with my actual humanity in spectacular fashion.

I was allowed to keep my drunkenly-granted officer status.  I had many new people I could legitimately call friends.  Some of them had a falling out, which I consider a great tragedy.  I visited New York again, though I was the only one.  My roommate is now the roommate of the woman I consider the big sister I never had, and he has since taken over leadership of the guild.  Hell, I’m his second in command, even holding the reigns briefly, myself.

Of the people in New York only my former roommate and I remain members in full of Cant Quit You.  The guild has shifted westward in vitality, with new faces rising to prominence, the old guard still remembers, though.  We still watch, sometimes we play.  The ideals that founded the guild transformed it into something better.  Even though we’re long past the support group stage of existence we all remember, and in our own ways remain.

Cant Quit You became more than a jokey name, it became truth.  People come and go, but those of us who really took to it remain close friends to this day, attending conventions together, helping each other professionally and personally.  Even the people who no longer play haven’t left.  Not really.  Because you can’t quit.  The bonds formed since 2007 have been there to strengthen me, guide me, and even save my family from homelessness.

In absence I will cheer those who are active.  In activity I will help those who wish my help.  In life, I will keep these friends as long as the ways of the world allow me to keep them.  It didn’t have to be World of Warcraft to have such an effect.  It did, however, have to be CQY.

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The Epic Legends: The Beautiful Game – Part One

World of Warcraft.

I can say with certainty that nothing in the whole of media has affected my life as dramatically, as permanently, and as positively as World of Warcraft.  A game known for destroying lives. For turning intelligent, erudite individuals into annoying fuckwits who obsess over what numbers will interact in the best way to make their good numbers go up and their bad numbers go down.  For being, honestly, quite boring at times.

World of Warcraft is all of these things, and on its own I would never play it.

World of Warcraft is not on its own, however.  In January of 2007, a man named Andrew Pfister, then an editor for 1up.com, founded a guild.  The guild, Cant Quit You, began on the Baelgun server as the ultimate anti-guild.  The only rule, was that you were forbidden from joining if you’d ever reached level 60.  This was a support group, a group for quitters, people who never raided Molten Core with 39 other people, for people who didn’t know how to play, or always wanted to but for whom the social aspects never clicked to allow them to really enjoy themselves.  I was one of the earlier people to sign on.

I confess I’d always been a bit of an internet starfucker, hanging around IRC channels for webcomics I liked, with drama following me everywhere I went.  I wanted to rub elbows with an upper echelon that I aspired to join, and show them how awesome I was.  That changed with CQY.  It didn’t change all at once, though.  First, I met a living cautionary tale.  A man who has some degree of fame (or infamy) who was in a very overt way trying to do what I intended.  His name was Jonah Falcon, and he holds the odd distinction of having the biggest dick in the world.  This is something I learned on my first day with CQY.  At the time he was acting like a big dick, and trying to convince the founder to give him a job writing.  Somewhat appropriately I found out that the man with the biggest dick actually was the biggest dick.  I wasn’t established or around for his banishment, though.  It was rather elaborate, the entire guild faked a break-up just to fuck with him.  I decided they were my kind of people.

Over time I became more and more prominent, I solved some problems, created more, and spent the Burning Crusade expansion cycle being generally an asshole.  I was a whiny, needy, attention-whoring jackass, and extremely easily trolled.  This was always my greatest weakness, I would not abide the pricks and in defense of myself I’d take it to the rafters.  Later on I’d feel vindicated in knowing most of the people I called out for rampant shitfuckery would leave the guild or be thrown out once people reached the same conclusion.  I took my banishment with uncharacteristic grace and stayed away without scene.  A while later I’d revisit the forums, start participating again out of the game, and try to acknowledge the one thing about myself that I never really did before.

I’m kind of an asshole.  I’m not intolerable, and I have the capacity to be really nice, but I am still kind of an asshole.  So I’d become the guild’s asshole.  I’d turn my talents for stirring up shit into a force for good.  Using my advanced asshole sensor array (we can smell our own) I started to identify problematic people and slowly troll them out of the guild, or into behaving, whichever happened first.

When I did return, one member threw a shit fit the likes of which I’ve never seen. I’d always pegged him for the angry type, and oh boy did he live up to my expectations.  He quit the guild, posted on forums at length about how I was pure evil and pure evil cannot be changed only fought.  I think he may have even compared me to Hitler.  I responded in a rather nice way, though.  Instead of calling him out, suggesting severe anger management classes, like every asshole bone in my body wanted to, I let him act a fool and acknowledged that yes, I am an asshole, but I’m the asshole on your side, and goddamn if I won’t try to make up for how much of a shithead I’d been in the past.

After my return, more would change than some perceptions of me.  My life would take a new path, one that nobody saw coming.

The Epic Legends: The Great Trial of the Sword Kings

I know I have only posted one epic legend before, but lo, another has happened during my long absence.  A force that will no doubt shape many things to come.  Read on, dear friends, and learn of the Great Trial.

Over the past two years I became a proper adult human.  I know, you’re thinking “Surely, Sword King, you could never be considered Adult or Human!” and two years ago I would have heartily agreed.  Oh how times have changed.

Before I fought with raid bosses and people taking things too seriously, I fought with women, mostly in an attempt to get them to end the, my god, nearly ten year dating hiatus.  I’ve slayed trolls and took a picture straddling the Washington Monument, as if it were the great stone phallus of freedom granted to me for my unchallenged cocksmanship.

The foes I’ve faced of late have been far different.  I’ve had to deal with problems financial, navigate the treacherous labyrinths of federal and state bureaucracy.  I’ve had to watch as my father, a great man, was broken down by the state of the world and fell into depression, bitterness, and cynicism.  I’ve watched constant pain take its toll on him, I’ve raged at The Man for doing nothing to help.  I’ve made miracles happened, made promises I can’t keep, and kept promises I thought impossible to keep.

In September of 2009 my father lost his job after over a decade of hard, honest work.  At first I found myself in a panic, and then, as days turned into months I started to find solutions.  Solutions, sometimes from the unlikeliest of places.  From World of Warcraft, a good friend of mine needed a place to live in Northern Virginia for an internship.  We had a spare room and rented it.  His help came at a time when our resources were all but spent.  It gave us nine months of precious time, time to think, time to regroup.

From the mother of a man I consider a brother, and among the best, most stalwart friends anyone could have, I learned of a government disability aid program that did not require an extensive work history.  I applied, and just as the now-Guild Master was moving back to school, I was certified disabled.  I had enough money to make up for what was lost in rent.  Once more, we had time.

Time, however, grows short quickly when you’re living hand-to-mouth, making every penny count.  My aunt Gail and, yes, even my mother provided significant financial aid and support during the Great Trial of the Magic Sword Kings.  As bureaucracies stalled, bungled paperwork, the clock was running out.  My father’s own application for Disability was taking a long time, unemployment money had run out early this year, and I was pulling miracles out of my ass on a semi-daily basis.

My greatest duty, though, was to try and be a rock.  An immovable object of belief and hope that would keep my father and I from being swallowed by the storm.  Being the nerdling I am, I took a liking to the philosophies and purpose of the Blue Lantern Corps, who wield the power of hope, to which there is no equal.  I wear a Blue Lantern ring on my finger to this day to remind me that no matter how black the night, All Will Be Well.

If I learned anything from this, any advice I can pass on to you, take your strength where you can find it, even if it seems silly to someone else.  Never be ashamed of what makes you strong.

Hope and willpower and luck will only last so long, though, and the reality was that August was going to be my final month in D.C.  There was no avoiding it, the lease was up, the money would either be utterly depleted, or reinvigorated.  I hope for your sake you never have to live through a month, knowing that you stand on the precipice, and your fate is no longer within your hands.

In July, my life, and the lives of my entire family were at a great crossroads.  We waited breathlessly for word on a disability determination.  It is a very strange thing indeed to hope with all your being that the government agrees that things are, in fact, as painful as you think they are.

Two paths lay before me. If the money were to come through, I would be able to move away from DC, preferably to New England, and know I had succeeded in my task.  I would know that I had kept my promise to stand by my father through the dark and the light until we emerged triumphant.  We had no idea if it would happen, but day after day I would look my father in the eyes and tell him “I have no doubt.  We will succeed in this.  We will make it through.  We will survive.”  I believed it, harder than I believed anything.  I would, at times, recite the Blue Lantern oath as a sort of mantra, to keep me focused on giving hope, and holding hope.

Down the other path, the path of least resistance, waited catastrophe.  My father would have been utterly crushed, and I, for all my effort, would have followed suit.  No doubt I would have eventually made my way into the care of my mother’s family.  My father, though, my father had nowhere to go.  No one to turn to.  His family all but abandoned him long ago, and he abandoned them in turn.  If this had indeed been the outcome, I would not be writing a blog post.  I fear I would be writing a eulogy.

I’ve never faced an existential threat that didn’t come from the darkness within me before.  Like many who suffer from mental illness I’ve done horribly stupid things.  Over the past two years I’ve overcome addiction, I’ve found treatment for what turns out to be a supremely rare circadian rhythm disorder that is found most often in the blind.  I’ve made my peace with love lost and chances missed.  After twenty-four years, I have left Washington, D.C.  Reading my own blog (which I do think is a form of intellectual masturbation, but sometimes a man’s gotta do, you know) I remark often about how I “gotta get out of this place”.  Well I did.

The outcome was not ideal, nothing ever truly is.  We were victorious, though.  I was victorious.  I was right.  I remember sitting outside on that fateful September day when this long trial began, thinking I would never survive it.  To grow up is something people do in different ways.  Most go to college, or get jobs.  I fought my way through the dark to save my family.  And I kept my promise.  I never lost hope, I never lost faith, and I stood by my father as he has stood for me time and again.  I fought the world and won.

I do not write this from the forests and rivers of New England, rather the foothills of the Appalachians, four hours southwest of Washington.  It is peaceful here.  There is a tranquility that over time, I hope will heal many of the battle scars that I endured.  I know now that I can resume my life having survived the dark, and emerged the stronger.  Sure, Jerry Falwell’s megachurch and “university” are five miles down the road, and there is a church next to the local dildo shop, but that’s fine, after what I’ve been through I can deal with this.  I am happy to be able to look out on a clear night and see the sky filled with stars.

I’m a different man now, than the one I was when I started this blog.  A more proper man in some ways.  A wiser Sword King, to be sure.  And sitting here, at the dawn of a new day in my life I am reminded.  As Scott Mosier said, and as I echoed in my very first post here at The Chaos Fold, “Not every moment rules.”

But then again, some moments do.

This is one of them.

in fearful day, in raging night, with strong hearts full our souls ignite, when all seems lost in the war of light, look to the stars – for hope burns bright

 

Old.

I am currently sitting in a foreign land, an apartment, not many miles from my own, where a good friend of mine lives… with his wife.  His pregnant wife.

I just turned 21 on Sunday so you might understand how this comes as something of a shock, my friends spawning podlings.  It is deranged and disturbing on a base level.  I am barely equipped to handle the idea that my own physiology is capable of spawning a hybrid version of myself with the aid of a host maiden.  To see friends, friends of similar age, engaging in the practice that results in this horrific merging is common.  To see them complete the horrific merger and not, I believe this is the correct term, “freak the fuck out” is unheard of.

Yet now I have seen it.  A happy married couple barely older than I, living in an apartment of their own, with a son on the way.  A boy!  A male human!  I know this is how I was produced and I’ve seen my aunt pregnant twice, I’ve held babies lovingly in my arms but they were all family, not friends.  To see it made real so suddenly is jarring to say the least.

Still, in the interest of science, I persevere.

In any case, when I arrived I found to my surprise, there is a way to make an environment more geeky than my own citadel.  There are anime wallscrolls and posters/prints covering 90% of the wallspace, and action figures/statues from World of Warcraft, Hellraiser, Megaman (lots of Megaman), various incarnations of Gundam, more manga than I’ve seen in most bookstores,

The characters I recognize are few and far between.  Comfortable icons of gaming are largely absent, a Big Daddy exists on a shelf, partially obscured.  Disgaea characters can be found among the gallery atop the mantle, as one might find flowers or commemorative plates in another scenario.

Did I mention my friend is married?

With a child on the way?

Clearly there are women out there who not only tolerate this level of geekiness, they revel in it, they thrive, they SPAWN in it.  Compared to their apartment, taken as a whole, my single room appears… normal.

Time goes on, we talk about World of Warcraft, a pastime we both share in (as does his wife, apparently) and call in another member of the old guard to throw down in some Soul Calibur.  It suddenly loses the feel of a distant experiment and the four anti-anxiety pills I had waiting in my pocket appear as if they won’t be needed.  The people I knew haven’t changed as much as their circumstances would indicate.  They have not mutated fundamentally.  I begin to question: Am I the mutant?  Am I the aberration?  One friend is married with broodling en route, the other is engaged and so content in his relationship that he doesn’t even notice when he flirts with other women.  I’ve always known him as something of a ladies man, not a predator, but a smart guy with a pretty face and a way with words.  Something I envy, to be sure, but I’m content with my own gifts for now.

Am I the mutant, though?  Marriage at 21 seems unthinkable, but clearly it is being done.  I have seen with my own eyes the evidence.  Not too long ago another friend of mine was engaged.  A former friend of mine married recently as well, as did my first girlfriend (to a contemptible prick).

We told stories of our lives and laughed, reveling in how funny everything seems now, even if it was horrific and painful at the time, at the very least embarassing (and in some cases punchassing, don’t ask).  Another epiphany:  Here we were, three barely-men of age 21 reminiscing about the good old days, when things were simpler and somehow more vibrant.

I felt old.

I am a mutant.

How to Beat World of Warcraft

Every week I hear a new studio talking about how Licensed MMO X will topple World of Warcraft and ascend to the throne of MMO supremacy.

They’re all fucking morons and 100% wrong. They know it, too. Most of these people will be ecstatic should they breach 1 million subscribers.

World of Warcraft is far from an unassailable tower, provided you hit it from the proper direction. So far, studios have lined up to make Generic Fantasy Mummorpurgers before the gates of Mordor, marching proudly with their gleaming swords and armor, only to toss all that crap aside at release and ritualistically disembowel themselves, gut-shitting a final product of intestines and bodily fluids into retail (see: Vanguard).

Here’s a simple guide to would-be developers as to how to unseat the King, or at least become one yourself.

  1. Do not make games based on nothing. This should be obvious. World of Warcraft built upon the storyline of the Warcraft RTS games, which themselves stole liberally from Games Workshop, who stole liberally from fantasy writers X, Y, and Z. No one gives two shits about Everquest Lady and with good reason. Have something to build on.
  2. Do not make licensed MMOs. Same problem in the opposite direction. Here you are trying to build your empire in the middle of someone else’s larger, more profitable empire. No doubt you’ll be forced to put Han and Chewie into the starting area just to appease the suits. This is one of the reasons Age of Conan and Warhammer Online will fail: They’ve got too much baggage. Warcraft had three successful games plus expansions.
  3. For fuck’s sake don’t make a fantasy game. It’s been done. They own fantasy. Make a fantasy game and you’re setting yourself up for failure. Everyone who wants to play a fantasy MMO is playing World of Warcraft or one of the stragglers around the periphery that hasn’t been crushed by Blizzard’s massive dick.
  4. Limit yourself to blatantly stealing only one thing from WoW at a time. I suggest the interface, they did it about as well as you can do it, and left the community to fill in the gaps. The interface is accessible and functional up until the final levels, when they’ve already got you smoking their crack. At that point, you’re hardcore enough to go out and customize it on your own. For many interface customization in WoW is a meta-game, try to make the sleekest interface, so you can post it on forums to enhance your e-peen.
  5. Make a Sci-Fi MMO. This is the only strong point from which you can take on Blizzard, and believe me this window won’t be open for long. Blizzard is no doubt already making plans for a Starcraft MMO. There are many properties in gaming that would be conducive to a sci-fi MMO. Halo. Get to work, Microsoft.
  6. Failing that, don’t make it an RPG. MMOFPS has been attempted, albeit ham-fistedly. With a compelling enough storyline an MMOFPS could work. MMORTS is far dicier, given the non-personal nature of RTS units versus player-characters.
  7. Make it for consoles and not PC!  It’s a gambit but one that will work out some time.
  8. Above all else: Stop saying that you are making a “WoW Killer”.  Its like a “Halo Killer” or an “iPod Killer”.  You can’t beat a product that has ascended into the cultural lexicon so completely that it becomes the measure for success.  You can beat a product, you can’t beat culture, unless you’re the Chinese Government.

You’re welcome, game designers.  Now I gotta go farm primals to pay for my epic flyer.

The Year of the Stunner: The Chaos Fold’s Gaming Year in Review (Part One)

2007 has been a banner year for video games. The titles that have bombarded store-shelves month after month continue to impress even the most jaded of critics. We have seen beloved franchises leap forward, new franchises born, and new developers rise to prominence.

In particular, 2007 has seen a stunning leap forward in the world of interactive storytelling. As film matured from silent clips of ribald comedy into spectacles of visual splendor and daring innovation, so too is gaming finding its own unique voice, and its own unique language for storytelling. As the Year of the Stunner, 2007 will not soon be forgotten. Continue reading

Bungie’s Split.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the recently-announced split between Bungie and Microsoft. Mostly due to playing a lot of Halo 3.

After my brief dalliance with consoles as a youth, I became a big-time PC gamer. My laptop, however, was a Mac, so I became an early and avid supporter of Bungie. I played Marathon and Myth to death and back. I even bought, played, and beat Oni when it came out shortly before their purchase by Microsoft.

If ever there was an odd sight in a junior-high-school cafeteria, it would be a goofy-looking kid with blonde hair going on about how Bungie has sold their souls to the devil, and that I could only hope that Billy Gates didn’t get his hands on the Soul Extraction Machine.

Now, it would seem, that Bungie has completed Step Six of their long-standing credo, the Seven Steps to World Domination. Step Six, “Stage bloody coup of new parent company.” was what they were on.

Well, I for one, am glad. Microsoft no doubt holds right of first refusal, and Halo is theirs eternally, but a world in which Bungie makes nothing but Halo is a lesser one than one with an autonomous Bungie. Microsoft did something great for Bungie, though, they put them on the map in a big way. Halo wouldn’t have been the phenomenon it was on the Mac or even the PC. Like Star Wars, it was a product of circumstance. The stars aligned in such a way that Halo transcended its relative quality to become something indescribable.

Star Wars wasn’t a particularly well-written movie, nor was it a particularly inventive movie in the narrative fashion. Yet because of the tensions of the era, the cold war, the vietnam war, it offered something powerful: Escape. In the wake of 9/11, Halo offered a similar escape to a new generation of bruised and disillusioned souls. Star Wars gave a hero to a generation.

The launch of the Xbox added another dimension to its perfect-storm appeal. This was exclusive, and it was new, and it was cutting edge. That’s a sexy combination. Halo, in the right place and at the right time, did what neither Bungie or Microsoft could have done purely of their own wills. It became the Star Wars of Video Games in a sense.

Granted, video games are a far more niche medium than film, but the paralells are valid. Perhaps a more apt financial comparison would be Jaws. No single game before Halo truly became a “blockbuster”.

Now that Bungie is its own entity, I’m relieved in a way. Halo stands on its own. I’d be perfectly happy if there were never another Halo game. I have my closure, even with a cryptic post-credit scene. Bungie can now do something that while it will almost certainly not be the cat-helmet success of Halo, will be new.

One bit of speculation before I wrap this one up, though: Bungie’s next project? Sci-fi MMO.

It could be Cyberpunk or pulp space opera, or steampunk, any number of subgenres, but I’m thinking that they’re going to aim at World of Warcraft, try and grab some of that pie for themselves.

There aren’t many studios that are equally equipped to do so.