Tag Archives: Ben Croshaw

Zero Punctuation Skewers Pokemon Black and White

Well, technically, just Pokemon White, but they are the same game with minor variations.

I don’t suppose it will be tough to guess how Yahtzee views the game.


Yes, it is the usual Yahtzee routine.  He goes after the tropes of the Pokemon series which, admittedly, does follow a pretty set pattern game after game, and is set in a world where everybody is obsessed by Pokmeon.  There are no uninterested bystanders.


Since WordPress.com won’t let me embed video in the format that they use over at The Escapist, you will have to go here to view the actual video.

If you have never played Pokemon, the video makes for a cynical but surprisingly accurate description of the game.

And if you are a fan of Pokemon, you will either laugh a lot or be deeply offended, as he does share his opinion about the type of people who play Pokemon.

I laughed.  Your mileage may vary.

My Demands for 2011

It is the new year, and with that comes predictions.  You can find plenty of them out there.  Lots of people have them, like Tipa, Spinks, Lum (those were predictions, right?), Green Armadillo and Keen. (More linked as I find them.)

Me?  I’m done with predictions.  Predictions come from a position of weakness!  I think my 2008, 2009, and 2010 predictions pretty much prove that.

For 2011 I am making demands!

And if my demands are not met, there will be consequences!  Consequences I tell you!

You have until December 15th to meet these demands!

Blizzard:

Stop looking so damn smug.  Tell us what Titan is,  ship Diablo III, and add some more content to the top end of World of Warcraft.  I swear half the game is already level 85.  Oh, and another sparkle pony, but something a little less frou-frou this time.  And an expansion for StarCraft II.  Somebody has to sell some PC games this year.

Sony Online Entertainment:

Smedley? SMEDLEY!  Pull yourself together.  I know those PlayStation people are bossing you around, but you make money.  Certainly more than they make on hardware.  Refine what you have.  More server merges.  Reconcile EverQuest II Live and EverQuest II Extended.  Work on the PC controls for DC Universe Online because I am NOT hooking up a console controller to my PC just to play it.  And finish with the Agency already, you’re starting to embarrass us all.

Cryptic:

Just go free to play across the board already.  Champions and Star Trek Online.  Everybody else is doing it.  But don’t screw over the lifetime subscribers.  And when you go free to play, make sure you have something shiny and new to bring people back.  Oh, and Neverwinter, get it out this year and don’t screw it up!

BioWare:

Everybody is watching you.  You’re not making some single player game.  You’re making an engine, an engine that is supposed to take in money and deliver the joy of being in the Star Wars universe.  Don’t let those wankers in San Mateo make you ship early.  Meanwhile, since you guys seem to be in the MMO driver’s seat at EA, for now, don’t screw around with Ultima Online, but do something about Warhammer Online.  You’re bright guys, you’ll figure something out.

CCP:

Will you put that drink down already?  EVE is still going, still making money, still popular, still unique, I get it.  And you are improving it over time.  But really, you’re starting to look like a one-trick pony.  What are all those people in Atlanta doing?  You don’t have to ship something new this year, but at least make us believe you’re really working on something new.  We’re starting to think you’re spending all that money you make on akvavit and exotic dancers.

NCsoft:

Aion, City of Whatever, and Guild Wars.  Is that really all you have going in North America?  Well, there is Lineage II I suppose.  And what do you have on your to do list?  Blade & Soul?  Really?  Don’t bother.  And let Guild Wars 2 gestate to full term, which means don’t ship it in 2011.

Trion Worlds:

Your big opportunity is coming.  Ship Rift at just about the time when WoW Players have finally wrapped up the high-end content and you could get… a stable half a million subscribers.  Okay, that isn’t WoW numbers, but history shows that most people just stick with their favorite MMO forever due to the social network they develop.  Hrmm… that is sounding like a prediction, not a demand.  Okay, go and get a half a million subscribers already!  By June!  With your shield or on it and all that!

Other MMO Studios:

Which of you is even poised to do anything in 2011?  TERA is going to be another Asian oddity, soon forgotten by the mainstream.  It was all that Aventurine could do to ship Darkfall, they won’t be doing anything else. Funcom won’t get The Secret World out in 2011, they’re more likely to cut more staff.  All of you other studios, select a champion and send it out to do battle.  Yes, it can be TERA if you cannot find anything else, but I’m telling you it is going to be completely forgettable.

Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw:

When Star Wars: The Old Republic ships this year, review it.  I know, it is a muh-more-puh-gah, but this is Star Wars and BioWare.  I demand it.  We all demand it!

Dr. Richard Bartle:

You were awfully quiet in 2010.  And you’ve got your three level 85s in WoW now. (A very common claim these days.)  Go say something controversial.  Declare WoW dead.  Predict SWTOR will be a failure as a virtual world.  Make some news.  Do an interview with those people at Massively.  They’ll print anything you say.

Points?

I suppose you expect me to assign points to these, and to score my success at the end of the year?  Screw that.  If my demands are not met, I will just sit back and announce the consequences.  And I have 11 or so months to work on that.  Remember, you have until December 15th!

Mogworld

Something not completely unlike a review of “Mogworld” by Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw.

The book and the man

(picture from Massively)

“Mogworld” is the story of Jim.

Jim had the bad luck to be born in the rural backwater of a kingdom that was itself a nowhere backwater in the greater scheme of things in the world.

Jim managed to escape a lifetime of mind-numbing rural monotony by getting himself enrolled in a wizard school.

It wasn’t a very good wizard school, but Jim wasn’t a particularly good student and neither side could really afford to be picky.

And then Jim died.

(I don’t think I’ve gone past page 10 at this point, in case you’re worried about spoilers.)

In death, Jim found peace and contentment.  It was a stark contrast to his life.  He was happy at last.

And then the necromancer raised him from the dead.  Jim wanted no part of it.

However, much had changed in the decades since Jim’s demise.  Death had been banished from the world.  Despite numerous attempts to kill himself, Jim just kept coming back to… um… unlife.  (He’s undead, after all.)

So he resigned himself to an unlife working for the necromancer.  It wasn’t a tough life.  He spent his shifts standing around chatting or playing cards while waiting for adventurers, often the same ones he’d seen previously, to show up so that he and his fellow undead could try to thwart them.

Life… erm, unlife… took on a routine, one familiar to some of us.

Then the angels came and began erasing his fellow undead servants of the necromancer in a way that indicated that they were not coming back, ever.

An innate sense of self preservation kicked in and Jim, along with two fellow undead, escaped from the angel apocalypse.

Then Jim realized that the angels were offering exactly what he was looking for, release from this world.  Suddenly his unlife had purpose.  Like the adventurers he previously opposed, he now had a quest.  Now knowing it was possible, Jim went off to figure out how to die in a world where death had been all but eliminated.

Meanwhile a group of programmers were trying to figure out what was going wrong with the cutting edge fantasy MMO they were creating.  Something had gone awry in Mogworld.

For a man who does not like Muh-More-Puh-Gahs, Mr. Croshaw certainly spent a lot of time writing about one.  We have here a virtual virtual world, of sorts.  Of course, for absurdity, life in an MMORPG certainly has potential.  Many of us have asked the question, “What is the life of an NPC like?”  We just haven’t padded it out to 400 pages, and probably for good reason.

You can sense the influences of Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams on Mr. Croshaw’s writing.  After all, his major success to date, Zero Punctuation could, with minor changes, be renamed The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Video Games and seem almost totally in character.

But Jim is not Rincewind nor Arthur Dent.  While he shares some characteristics with them, like a stubborn desire to go the opposite direction that everybody thinks he should and a high degree of helplessness in the face of overwhelming events, unlike the other two, the further story moved along, the less I cared about him.  Once you’ve confirmed that he is just a character in a virtual world, and frankly the title tells you that much (MOG World… Massively Online Game World), you can see where things are headed.

And while he enjoys brief bouts of being the one eyed man in the kingdom of the blind, I did not find his anti-hero persona compelling in, say, a Thomas Covenant sort of way.  Jim just gets annoying at times.  This lead to a rather uneven level of interest on my part, where I would be glued to the book for a while, and then I would hit a bad patch, lose interest, toss it on the pile of books on my nightstand, and have to work myself up to picking it up again.

Minor things also grated.  The programmers, whose email and IM communications are how their views are made known in the story, have to be the worst typists ever.  Yes, I know, people in general are sloppy in instant messages.  But it has been my experience over the last 20 years that people who write code for a living tend not to be prone to excessive typos, or if they are then they eventually end up in careers outside of programming.  Mr. Croshaw seemed to feel the need to milk instant messenger sloppiness for humor so vigorously that I’d have to say that that cow went dry very quickly and ended up with a painful teat rash well before the book was a third of the way done, the pain of said rash being shared by the reader.

Or maybe that was just me.

Anyway, for me it quickly lost any comedic charm or value and became an annoyance and a distraction.

In the end I had to think that Mr. Croshaw was hemmed in and betrayed by his own premise.

An MMORPG as a literary vehicle served the purpose of allowing Mr. Croshaw to poke fun at a gaming genre for which he has little love, but it had its revenge on him.  Once you’ve declared that it is all an MMORPG, certain rules and expectations are then only ignored at the peril of losing suspension of disbelief… or whatever the gamer “that’s not how it’s done” equivalent is.

And while I won’t give away the ending, or even hint at it, I will say that I didn’t like it.  But the reason I didn’t like it was mostly due to the corner into which the story had painted itself.  It wasn’t bad, but it was not satisfying either.  It was just the end.

Generally when I get to the end of a new book, I make one of three choices.

If I really like the book, and I know I am going to re-read it at some point, it goes in my bookcase on the upper shelves with Tolkien, Larry Niven, and Derek Robinson.

If the book left me not wanting any more, it goes in a box where it will end up donated, at a garage sale, or off to the used book store.

And then there is the middle ground.  Books I might read again, some day, if the planets aligned just right.  Books where I feel there is something there for me, but not enough to ensure that I’ll be up to the effort of re-reading them.  Those books huddle on the lower reaches of my bookshelf and in the closet with Harry Turtledove alternate histories, all those Kurt Vonnetgut novels I read one very depressing summer, and my German copies of Catch-22 and Catcher in the Rye.

(A girlfriend of mine was traveling to Germany way back in the 80s and I asked her to pick me up a paperback copy of Catch-22 in German.  She came back with Catcher in the Rye.  Several years later, somebody else was headed to Germany and managed to bring back Catch-22.  I read both, which was a challenge given the level of my German and the heft of my German-English dictionary.  Now I have too much emotionally invested in the books to part with them, but my German is so atrophied by now that I haven’t a hope of reading them again.)

“Mogworld” falls in that third category.  There is something there, but I am not sure it is worth the effort of a return visit.

I do hope that Mr. Croshaw finds a better muse for his next book.  He has talent.  It just did not seemed to be well served by the path he chose this time.

Mogworld” by Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw, published by Darkhorse Books, 2010.