October 2009

The biggest problem with Champions Online...

…is that I only have eight character slots. I could spend weeks just creating cool-looking characters, posing them in various in-game locations, and taking screenshots. I’ve only owned it for three days, and I’ve already used up six slots. And that’s after throwing away several things that didn’t work out.

The game is fun, too. There are some rough edges, but it’s quite playable.

The character generator is insanely complex, but there are some reasonable canned options, overridable theme colors, lockable randomizers, a big undo stack, and the ability to not only save your designs, but send them to a friend. I can see a small cottage industry of designers springing up to help people create cool superheroes.

[Update: I wanted to really turn up the graphics settings, so I rebooted my newer MacBook Pro into Windows and tried it. And I can crank up almost all of the options and still get a smooth framerate. BUT it looks like crap because of a lighting issue in the latest patch that blows out all light colors when you’re near a non-diffuse light source (like, say, “sunshine”). I thought it was my drivers at first, but it’s busted on the other machine as well; I didn’t notice right away, because there’s not a lot of bad lighting in the tutorial missions or in Canada.

Second problem: I’d forgotten that Windows doesn’t work with Japanese keyboards, unless you select the right keyboard type during the initial Windows install. Seriously, even with Vista, you can’t say “the keyboard I just plugged in has a Japanese layout, you know, the kind with an Eisuu key and nothing to the left of the ‘1’”; all keyboards that don’t come with their own special driver are assumed to be the same as the one you installed the OS with, and none of the suggested hacks I’ve found works. For more fun, unless you buy Vista Ultimate, you can’t even select the Japanese keyboards while installing an OS purchased in the US. Ultimate is cheap for me, but come on, that’s stupid.

I’ve learned to cope with it in VMware sessions, but playing a game where some keys are in the wrong place and others don’t exist just doesn’t work out. I’ll have to use an external keyboard to play on this machine.]

Random good, random bad

The character designer in Champions Online offers a ridiculous level of customization, so much so that it can be difficult to find some of the parts. Sometimes it’s because they’re only available with a specific parent part, sometimes just because they’re buried under three levels of pulldown menus. One of the best ways to find the part you’re looking for is with the randomizer, which can be used to replace anything from the highlight color on a single part up to a complete rebuild of face, body, and costume.

You can spend hours tweaking everything about your character until it’s just right, or you can click on the randomizer until it throws up something that doesn’t suck, and jump into the game. Of course, one man’s superhero is another man’s eye-searing disaster (and, yes, you can).

Sturgeon’s Law definitely applies to character design, deliberate or random. I’ll post screenshots of my creations soon, but here are two examples that show exactly what the randomizer can come up with, good and bad.

[click on the image to see close-up and side views]


Meet The Disfunctionals

Warning: this post is pure self-indulgence, being a gallery of my Champions Online character designs and the backstory I’ve come up with for each of them. It’s not on par with Shamus’s efforts, either serious or silly (parts 1, 2, 3, 4), but what it lacks in prose style, it makes up in… well, nothing, really.

Many pictures follow, each linked to an expanded view of the costume.


The Fairness Doctrine: City of Heroes

Since I’m having fun with Champions Online, it seemed only fair to mention the competition, City of Heroes/Villains, which not only has a free trial, but also a Mac client. I tried it out before purchasing CO, and after a few days and a few characters, found no enthusiasm for continuing. Despite the completely different genre, the game it most felt like was Anarchy Online, which I burned out on soon after it launched.

You can, as Ubu demonstrates, make some very nice, detailed characters. You can customize the visual effect of their powers in quite tasty ways. You can jump into the game and start beating up muggers and purse-snatchers with those powers. In fact, you have to, since they’re fifty feet from police headquarters and most characters are stuck “jogging heroically” (as Shamus so aptly puts it) for quite a few levels. I lost interest because that’s all you seem to do at low levels: attack loitering gangs of muggers and get killed with a lead pipe by anonymous punks. Level up, and you get to attack different loitering gangs of muggers.

I’m sorry, but I created a nine-foot-tall amazon who summons gale-force winds and blasts of ice, and I resent being done in by a purse-snatcher. Even if he’s a level nine purse-snatcher. As far as I can tell, the only variety at low-levels is that some of the muggers have been reskinned into “trolls” and “butchers”. Same weapons, same tactics, SSDD. And they respawn in about a minute in the exact same location with the exact same mix of shooter/slasher/puncher. I’m sure there’s a compelling game at higher levels, but the out-of-box experience is a dull, derivative grind.

Lovely characters, though. Here’s the one I liked the best:


Dear Page 3,

It’s been a while since you delivered an honest-to-gosh pinup, and this is the first time you’ve ever delivered a truly first-rate picture of Rosie. I’d link to it directly, but you use Flash to prevent usability, so I’ll have to just copy it.

NSFW, of course, given that she’s wearing about three grams worth of bikini bottoms.

[Update: two days in a row? Did you just hire a new senior editor?]


Dear Amazon,

You’re still having this problem?

I search for Revo sunglasses, to replace the pair that just snapped in half while I was wearing them. I find the closest model available with free shipping, and what do I find as the “active discussions in related forums”?

Amazon: if you like sunglasses, surely you'll like...

You folks make a living doing keyword matching, and this is what you throw up on my screen? Are you suggesting that sunglasses lead to cross-dressing, like some sort of optically polished gateway drug? Should my mother be concerned?

Have you thought about moderating, or better yet eliminating these forums? The signal-to-noise ratio makes Youtube commenters look like modern sages.

Dear Microsoft,

Vista’s generally a nice OS, but the fact that a folder contains JPEGs does not mean that the “details” folder view should include only those data fields that are valid for photographs. Seriously, wtf? “Date taken”, “Tags”, “Rating”, with a tiny little column for file name, and by default no mention of file creation/modification time? And no obvious way to view it as “folder containing files”?

Dear Nobel Committee,

Sloppiest. Blow job. Ever.

Microsoft, Sidekick, Danger

Reading the emerging story about the T-Mobile/Sidekick data loss, I was surprised to discover that this guy isn’t working there. In fact, he’s not even on the West Coast any more, which makes me feel better about all my data.

I have some friends at what used to be Danger, and I know they’ve been working frantically at damage control, but I can only see blood on the walls in this one. Some people screwed up bigtime, years ago, both procedurally and technically, and if the original culprits are gone, their replacements will get axed for not spotting, and removing, the vulnerabilities.

Microsoft can afford the financial hit it’s going to take from this, but the PR hit is devastating. Any product line that says “trust us with your data” is in big trouble.

[why, yes, I did just update and verify my offsite backups; why do you ask?]

Undeath From Above

As I learn more about powers and combat styles in Champions Online, I find that many of the choices I made early on are sub-optimal. You can retcon your powers for a price, and the price isn’t outrageous at early levels, but since I’m still learning, I want to stick with my choices as long as possible, and try to make them work.

Case in point, The Cybernetic Librarian has mostly Sorcery powers, with two early slots spent on healing and shielding to avoid the damage that she was taking at low levels. Her major single-target ranged attack takes a lot of time to charge up, likewise her ranged AoE damage/stun. But she still gets into trouble when a large group of henchmen are spread out and plinking away, so I picked up a power that summons three zombies who freely attack anyone attacking you (March of the Dead).

Turns out the single-target attack (Eldritch Blast) has long range, and when fully charged can take out a henchman in one shot, from beyond his aggro range. The AoE stun (Condemn) is also slow to charge, and only affects things very close to the target, but if you attack from outside aggro range, everything moves towards you to attack, and they tend to bunch up enough to allow stunning several. And the zombies? They get summoned at her current location, and if she’s flying over a group of villains high enough to avoid aggro, they drop to the ground as soon as they appear.

They take some falling damage, but they don’t start fighting until something attacks her, so the villains ignore them. So the new strategy for outdoor fights is to fly right over a group, airdrop the zombies, one-shot a henchman, then move into range and gather them up for a stun. The 28 seconds that the zombies last provides plenty of damage and distraction.

Spam Subject Line Of The Day

I don’t know what they were trying to sell, since my mailer didn’t load the images from their web site, and their HTML message had no actual text (which didn’t help it get past my spam filters…), but the subject line conjured a very peculiar mental picture:

Extreme hoe's makeup

Bash Quiz

What is the result of feeding this expression to a Bash shell?


Best. Cellphone Ad. Ever.

LG paid two Korean girl groups to record music videos for their latest ad campaign. I don’t know what the other group did, because I can’t seem to tear my eyes away from Girls’ Generation…

[link goes to the cleanest HD version I could find on Youtube, sadly tagged by some clown who thought his handle was so important it needed to be embedded in the video at beginning and end, as if he were the second coming of MTV]

Dear Page 3,

Is Chloe the only model you’ve never managed to publish a bad picture of? Could you please apply this same high, perky standard to all the other girls?



The first hit is free...

…this weekend, anyway. Champions Online is offering people a chance to try their game out for free, from 10am Friday through 10am Monday. If I weren’t already playing, I’d start.

Even with the bugs, imbalances, and graphics glitches, even with the inept proofreading and occasionally 7th-grade-level writing skills, they’ve built a game that’s an awful lot of fun to play. With a few months more polish and playtesting, it will be even better, but it’s worth a look today. Honestly, I’d pay the monthly fee just to play with the character designer; the fact that the combat system is dynamic and exciting is a bonus.

Speaking of the character designer…


“Need a clue, take a clue,
 got a clue, leave a clue”