Tree Rex. Eye Brawl. Scarlet Ninjini. If you’re the parent of a small boy there’s a good chance you know these names well: the ferocious cast of Skylanders, a computer-game-meets-action-figure franchise which has become my son’s first honest-to-goodness playground craze.
“Meets” here really means “versus”, in the way a mash-up is “versus”: the gaming and collectibles elements are fused to a fiendish degree. You play the game by placing a physical figure on a “portal of power” – presto! There he is on the screen, stomping around a pretty standard 3D platformer thing. The more figures you buy, the more characters you can use; the more characters you can use, the more game elements you unlock, and the more money Activision makes. There is very little Skylanders merch – no TV show yet, no comics, none of that paraphernalia – because why should there be? The basic collect-and-play mechanism has plenty of financial life in it.
This physical-digital fusion is the heart of Skylanders’ appeal, and it’s innovative in several ways, not all of them so fun. Playgrounds have always been hothouses where peer pressure and parental income brutally intersect – Skylanders rewards wealth (if not thriftiness) like any collectible fad. No novelty there. But successfully importing this mechanic into a console game is setting a precedent. The virtue of console and PC gaming used to be its completeness: buy a game and you’ve bought the whole game. Not so Skylanders: to my knowledge it’s the first really successful application of the “in-app purchase” model of mobile gaming to the big-ticket console mainstream.
Ryan Lochte is never one to shy away from a good publicity stunt. He may have 11 Olympic swimming medals of various colours, but as you can see below his main talent is for getting people to look at him (this shot was taken for ESPN magazine).
HOWEVER I feel that Ryan has missed a key detail of this well-known tableau! I’m sure this will be rectified by the magazine’s photoshop department later…
I was suspicious of Live Action Role Playing for a long time. I had three excellent reasons: it couldn’t possibly work, it verged dangerously close to SPORTS, and most of all White Dwarf strongly hinted it was a stupid idea. At the time I took White Dwarf very seriously. There was a whole underworld of role-playing fanzines who saw White Dwarf as the enemy of all that was righteous in the hobby, intent on straitjacketing the minds of infant games with their barely disguised pimping of glossy, shallow Games Workshop products. These fanzines were broadly right. But I didn’t read them: as far I was concerned, the Dwarf was mega and skill.
Games Workshop – White Dwarf’s publishers (hence the pimping) – had placed certain bets on the direction the HOBBY OF THE 80S was going to swing in. Their bets involved carefully painted dioramas rather than minibus rides to wet caves, so the magazine spent a lot of time taking the piss out of LARP. Some of this was also the unslakable thirst of the nerd to find someone they can look down on – sad we may be, but we don’t wave rubber swords around (we only paint lead ones). And some of it, it must be said, was justified. Like a lot of geek businesses in the 80s, LARP attracted a few thrusting young Thatcherites whose bold entrepreneurial spirit was matched only by their willingness to scarper with the money at the first opportunity. It gained a reputation for spivviness.
I wrote a post before. in the “I Was A Goblin” series, about how the Dungeons & Dragons concept of player “levels” and “levelling up” was an innovation which became hardwired into pretty much every game since. That was back in 2006 or so. Now we’re seeing a lot of talk about how the priciples and mechanics of gaming can be transferred into everyday life – see this blog post on the “Decade of Gaming” for an excitable* example.
I have another blog where I can dig into the details and issues around that, but I thought it would be interesting on Freaky Trigger to delve a little into the history of the “levels” idea. So this is a bundling of sources – comments from anyone who can fill in more or have other ideas would be extremely welcome.
A brief recap of what we’re talking about – “level” is used in multiple senses in games: to talk about player rank, specific game areas, and the ambient level of challenge in the game universe. We’re interested here in personal ranking. The idea is that a player (or avatar) earns points through successfully carrying out actions or tasks: get enough points and you go up a level, which generally involves an increase in your in-game abilities or access to new ones. So where does that come from?
Of the thousands and thousands of words that have been written about The John Terry Situation this week, Louise Taylor’s ridiculously florid piece in the guardian on Wednesday which starts:
Fabio Capello’s still somewhat limited English vocabulary may not yet incorporate the term “invidious position”
must have been the turning point where Fabio decided that he had to go. Not because of Ms Taylor herself, but, I think, because of the following piece of genius from Freaky Trigger’s very own Patron Saint of Sport, Lord Harry of Bassett:
Dave Bassett endorsed [Glenn] Roeder’s view that a Rubicon has been crossed. “The problem is John Terry’s a wrong-un. He’s masquerading as one of the chaps but he ain’t because this shouldn’t happen,” the former Wimbledon and Sheffield United manager said. “Of course you have players misbehaving when they’re married. But they aren’t doing it to a team-mate’s missus. That’s off bounds.
“It sticks in the throat. There’s an unwritten rule that you don’t start messing with players’ missuses. I’ve had players who have left their missus or had bits and pieces on the side but they’ve not gone off with a team-mate’s bird. That’s crossing a line and where it comes unstuck with Terry. I don’t recollect it in all my years in football.
Gawd Bless yer Harry!
Been away for a while and will probably be away for a while longer, but I have a brief window to advance this now-glacial series a little further. So then, Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds:
William Shatner’s version, given a little extra ‘treatment’ for the YouTube generation by videoist Paul Heriot. I remember Lee and Herring describing this as Shatner believing that he had to be on LSD in order to sing the song, and Heriot certainly seems to be running with that ball (and also the Star Elephant that will forever be in any room Shatner inhabits). Personally, I love Shatner’s vocals and I think this might be the perfect song for his somewhat unique stylings… but this is a series about Beatles Rock Band and not Shatner Session Band so we’ll move on.
I’ve left it a little late, huh? The season could be over tonight, around 11pm. That’s Eastern Standard Time, Bronx Time, the time at Yankee Stadium, where the World Series returns this evening after a brief and inconclusive middle eight in Philadelphia. But now we come back to the chorus, the refrain heard so often in early autumn: the Yankees are about to win the World Series.
It’s enough to set your teeth on edge. The privileged golden boys of baseball – Derek Jeter, Andy Pettite, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and his mentor Joe Girardi – all of these guys first won the World Series way back in 1997, when owner George Steinbrenner was still giving great quote to reporters, when the World Trade Center was still standing, when the Yankees were still on WPIX every day through the summer and the “YES Network” (“Yankees Entertainment Sports”) was still just an agitprop gleam in Steinbrenner’s crinkly eye.
Things I have never really understood.
a) Pies at football
b) People going to the toilet during a movie
Both of these are predicated on the same issue really. Football matches take less than two hours. They take place, usually, in the afternoon – cannily timed between usual meal times. And yet at half time there are queues for the pie stall you cannot believe. You would think they were knocking out tubs of Ambrosia (foor of gods not rice pudding) for the stampede for a piss poor Pukka. Can’t you wait or do you have to graze at every opportunity?*
Ditto, films are usually about two hours long. I was taught, post potty training, how to hold it in for at least that long. Perhaps you had a few beers beforehand, perhaps you are drinking a VAT of coke. Perhaps this will add strain but you only have yourself to blame. Nevertheless for NAMBY PAMBIES with peanut sized bladders there is now a useful i-Phone App. Introducing RunPee: an application that tells you the best time in a film to have a wee. HAS IT COME TO THIS?
|Andy Murray chastises a tennis ball|
During Wimbledon’s inaugural set of night-time tennis on Monday night, played under what’s become the most famous roof since the Sistine Chapel, I found that I loathe every particle of Andy Murray.
Now, I realize Andy Murray is a professional athlete. Macho theatrics and being as interesting as a pile of firewood come with the territory. But Wimbledon is not just a collection of freakishly fit young adults whacking things between each other, it’s a drama, and in this drama he pushes buttons I didn’t even know I possessed.