Server Stability

Since I’ve returned to the game last week, STO’s server stability has been a bit… spotty. The game was down several times last weekend, and apparently this morning Tribble collapsed under the weight of the open Romulan beta. Worse yet, when one of Cryptic’s games — STO, CO, or Neverwinter — goes down, they all go down. Cryptic has repeatedly stated that all of their games aren’t on “one server”, and independent from that, I’m pretty certain that the hardware mainframe needed to support STO, CO, and Neverwinter probably can’t be summed in “server,” singular. That said, it’s clear that each game’s stability is nonetheless influenced by the stability of its sister games. There were suspicions that STO’s downtime last weekend was brought about by Neverwinter’s soft launch, and there’s a general humming and hawing on the forums that May 21st will see STO crash yet again.

For me, all of this is neither here nor there. I’ve been minimizing my time in STO, and plan to do so through the release of LoR. I figure I’ll try to get a leg up on all of my real-life work, thus ensuring an unadulterated day of enjoyment. So server crashes in the here-and-now mean litte to me; it’s server stability on the 21st that I’m eyeing wearily.

I sometimes spelunck into STO’s official forums. Like all official forums for any game, ever, they are filled with terrible people saying terrible things. I’ve learned that Science captains are terribly gimped; I’ve learned that Engineers are terribly gimped; I’ve learned that the game is now “Escorts Online”; I’ve learned that PvE is so easy that the previous three claims are moot. But, again, like all official forums, there are some really informative threads, and there are some really good jokes. I personally liked this one:


Trials and Tribble-ations

HZ’s post yesterday, on bad habits and flaws, got me thinking about my own on-again, off-again blogging habits. I think one of my biggest issues is that I treat blogging as this incredibly ambitious project, and then abandon it as soon as I feel it’ll take any sort of time or effort.

I don’t really have a solution, except to try to be a little more realistic with my blogging goals. So, for instance, watching and reviewing every Romulan episode in preparation for Legacy of Romulas? Not going to happen! But posting a few thoughts on a few episodes, in a post where I update readers about what I’m currently up to? Now that’s a little more doable.

This Weekend’s Tribble
STO is doing one of their Tribble Test Weekends, and as always, there’s the promise of an unannounced reward for players who test the server for over any hour. Tradition dictates that it’s probably going to be a tribble, with the most popular guess being a tribble that grants a Romulan mark every hour. That certainly wouldn’t be the end of the world, but I’m personally hoping for a DOff.

I’m patching for the test server even as I type. Getting an hour in won’t be that difficult, even if I am going to generally avoid all of the Romulan content. I hear there’s new beginning Klingon missions; I think I’ll try those out!

Classic Romulans
Thanks to Amazon generous Prime Instant Watch offerings, I was able to what two of the three Romulan episodes from The Original Series — in HD and remastered!

Balance of Terror – The big draw of this episode is the scenes set on the Romulan warbird. Mark Lenard‘s performance as the Romulan commander is really engaging, and it’s clear why the actor was brought back later as Spock’s father Surak. Outside of that, though, I found the episode a little lacking. For instance, it isn’t clear what tactical advantage the Romulan’s cloak provides, as at this early juncture the Enterprise is still able to track the Romulan ship even when it is cloaked. Furthermore, the entire episode plays out like a destroyer-submarine fight (it was apparently inspired by The Enemy Below), with the Enterprise using phaser shots set to “proximity blast” like depth charges.

The Enterprise Incident – Look, any episode that has Kirk being declared insane is on its way to being a great episode in my book. And there’s this cool story about the Enterprise being sent to steal a new-and-improved Romulan cloaking device, with Kirk’s faux insanity used as plausible deniability. But, as always, The Original Series writes female characters absolutely terribly, and so the sexy Romulan commander‘s only defining characteristics were 1) her sexiness, and 2) her infatuation with Spock. At the least, Cryptic did a really good job recreating those absolutely gaudy 23rd century Romulan uniforms.

I know that the Romulans also make an appearance in “The Deadly Years“, but I’m not really inclined to watch it. I guess I still have “The Good Troi Episode” from TNG. And “The Defector“, naturally.

I finished Spec Ops: The Line last night. Wow, that was something.

Republican Values

I’ll be frank: I have never really been a fan of Romulans. I already like one militarized, duplicitous race of alien imperialists, and they paint their ships ochre. In fact, all I’ve truly ever wanted out of Star Trek Online was the ability to play a Cardassian — not an alien-gen, but a Species: Cardassian officer who was committed to rebuilding the Cardassian Union as a force for good in the galaxy.

So I’m quite surprised at how excited I’m for STO‘s first expansion pack, Legacy of Romulus — especially given that it is completely focused on a race that I’m “not that into.” And heck, that’s growing less true by the day; I think I’m going to watch some of the more Romulan-centric episodes of the various series through Amazon Prime. I seem to remember GeeCee pumping herself up for STO in a similar way, so maybe it’s a time-honored tradition?

Also, it doesn’t hurt that I’ll be playing as a loyalist of the Romulan Republic. In essence, it’s the “reform” or “restoration” story that I wanted for my Cardassian: in the wake of an unmitigated disaster, attempting to create a more representative body politic against the militant opposition of the old order. But in this case, I’ll have pointy ears instead of a sinewy neck. That motivation speaks to me far more than the STO‘s Klingon “we need to fight because that’s what we do, and also honor.” And it makes the duty officer missions I run that much more significant, ya know? I’m not simply sending my astrometric lab technician to a conference; I’m proving that the Romulan people will once again be a leading power in the galaxy.

Now the only question is: pure Romulan, Reman, or Liberated Borg Romulan? Honestly, I’m leaning toward the first choice, though I’m strangely drawn to that female Reman character design…

Ragnar Wrex, Gorn of SCIENCE

If you’re not playing Star Trek Online as a massive, bipedal lizard SCIENTIST that BITES PEOPLE, then you’re playing it wrong.

After an extremely long hiatus of over a year, I decided yesterday to download STO and give it another shot. Many moons back, I purchased a lifetime subscription for this very purpose: the ability to drop in and out of the game at my leisure.

Several years back, Melmoth wrote an incredible piece on returning to old MMO characters. Being Melmoth, it’s both well written and funny:

And that’s pretty much your standard reasonably high level character in an MMO after you’ve been away from them for any significant period of time. You start looking at all the buttons and, if you have any sense, run away screaming. If you don’t do that, then you’re possibly the sort who laughs merrily at all the power that your character must possess, because look: there are six finger-aching hotbars worth of buttons there! So you immediately run into a fight with three or four mobs of plus five levels, and as your character’s health starts to careen its way off the side of the screen you start maniacally pressing buttons in the order that you seem to vaguely remember from several months ago, and it all goes downhill from there. You find the button for ejecting your character’s armour, you find the button that sends up a flare in order to attract all the other mobs in the zone, the button that changes your hair colour, the one that launders your underwear (which you note down because it’s about to become quite useful), and you find the button which announces in General Chat that you’ve taken off all your armour and are currently flashing your whiter than whites at fifteen hundred angry orcs. And that’s when you remember that you were thinking of the buttons for another character, from a different game entirely; you watch your character vaporise into a cloud of bloody droplets, and all you can think is ‘well at least I know which button gets those stains out of my character’s underwear’.

Aaaaaaannnnnnnnnnddddddddddd that’s what happened to me, except even worse. Well, maybe not worse. But I’ve not played STO since the game went free-to-play, so eighteen months of updates flashed before my eyes: here are your 600, 700, 800, 900, 1000 day awards! Let’s drop those old quests, and here are a few new ones! Now here are some quest givers, chatting you up! Respecs! New currencies!

So I did what any self-respecting returner would do: I made a new character.

“My Hegemony, right or wrong.”

Ragnar Wrex is a gorn of science. Before the outbreak of hostilities with the Klingon Empire, he was an up-and-coming figure in the field of applied quantum manipulation, with two published papers in press and a joing Federation-Gorn research appointment lined up on Cestus III. In fact, during the Siege of Gornar, one of Ragnar’s papers was presented in absentia to the Vulcan Science Academy.

But times change, and now the Gorn King Slathis has sworn fealty to the Klingon Empire. The KDF, always short capable engineers, humbly requested that its newfound “ally” supply a cadre of technically minded gorn for advancement in the Klingon navy. Ragnar’s engineering abilities soon caught the eye of a particularly technologically inept Klingon captain — and the ignorant Klingon, taking Ragnar’s height and strength as proof of leadership capability, submitted the gorn’s name for officer training.

In private, Ragnar despises the Klingon Empire. A true believer in the Hegemony’s manifest destiny, Ragnar believes that some day, he and like-minded gorn will overthrow the Klingon occupiers and restore the Gorn Hegemony to its rightful place as a first-tier interstellar power. Then, and only then, will Ragnar be able to run his experiments in peace.

[Flirt]: Gender and The Old Republic

I knew, long before The Old Republic was actually released, that my first character would be a female Smuggler. The Smuggler part was obvious; the rough-and-tumble, roguish classes have always appealed to me. And compared to the pseudo-magical background of the Jedi, all I needed was a trusty blaster and a handsomely-aged ship.

The "female" modifier, though – well, I’ll be the first to admit that was a gendered choice, insofar as gender had everything to do with it. In my mind, pretty much the only thing sexier than Han Solo is a female Han Solo. I won’t argue that a female character who can outdrink, outshoot, and outfly everyone else in the cantina is inherently strong – the whole “ideal” of the "strong female character" is really problematic – but I will admit that "independent and sassy female" is a trope that appeals to me. In short: this is my escapist fantasy, worrying sexist overtones be damned.

And The Old Republic delivered. My Single Female Smuggler stumbled from galactic cantina to galactic cantina, doing exactly what I wanted her to do – killing a bounty hunter here, saving a Wookie there. And, of course, there was the flirting, because what smuggling experience would be complete without an undertone of charming, flirtatious sexuality? Granted, I’d only been able to flirt with a handful people out of the hundreds I had encountered – my designated romance option, the snake that stole my ship, a card shark, a pansy aristocrat – but that hardly mattered. "My smuggler has standards," I told myself. "I probably wouldn’t have flirted anyway."

Eventually, I decided to make a male smuggler. This had nothing to do with my Single Female Smuggler, but everything to do with a female character: I’d bumped into a fun female companion that, thanks to Bioware’s choice to exclude homosexual options, I couldn’t romance. So Mr. Muttonchops was born. And it was the same roguish experience I had come to expect, with the same down-on-your-luck plot and the same cast of colorful characters. That is, with one important exception: I could flirt with everything.

Everything might be an overstatement; the NPC still had to have breasts to be eligible for a [Flirt] conversation option. But cops, Senators, planetary governors — I could flash a wink and make a sexually suggestive comment to each and every one of them. I hadn’t realized what I was missing with my female smuggler. "This," I said to myself, "this is what it means to be a smuggler in The Old Republic."

Being able to flirt my way across the galaxy seemed natural for a male smuggler, and for a precious, fleeting moment I appreciated that Bioware had coded a whole host of Smuggler-centric flirt options. It took me a while to realize the truth: every male player character, from the most upstanding Jedi to the most roguish smuggler, had the same flirt options.

Being able to flirt wasn’t what it meant to be a smuggler in The Old Republic; that’s what it meant to be male.

I’m not certain why Bioware chose to not include more flirt options for females, but the disparity is extremely stark. In her first twenty five levels, my female trooper had the opportunity to flirt with precisely two characters. On the other hand, my male smuggler – and, by extension, every male player character – has the option to flirt with at least that many female NPCs per planet.

This creates a strange and terrible storytelling imbalance that can only be described as sexist: female characters are explicitly disallowed from deploying their sexuality in the same way that their male counterparts can. Male characters can do what they want, when they want, with the women they want; women stay chaste and unflirtatious, automatically precluded by the game itself from any sort of lewd behavior with strangers.

And in those fleeting moments when a female character is allowed to flirt, it’s always with the exact same type of character: the sort of roguish, disarming character that would probably make a pass at them first – say, the trooper’s Nar Shaddaa contact Jonas Balkar, or the smuggler’s Coruscant acquaintance Darmas Pollaran. In effect, only obviously receptive males are "safe" to flirt with, ensuring that any female-instigated flirting is still at the discretion (and thereby tacitly allowed by, and controlled by) the male NPC.

I am not making the argument that Bioware has some sort of covert misogynistic agenda. But somewhere in the years leading up to The Old Republic‘s release, someone made a conscious choice to create male flirt options and to not create corresponding female flirt options. Or worse, maybe there wasn’t a conscious choice. Maybe this is just part-and-parcel of the same sort of reasoning that gave every female character in the game a D-cup, or that thought a sexualized female hologram made a great Collector’s Edition item: a game designed by men, for men, reflecting male wants and desires.

Building Better Worlds

So I saw this yesterday:

The only let down was that I thought Guy Pearce was going to conclude with “I’d like to build a better world” rather than “change the world”.

Needless to say, I’m really excited for Prometheus. In my opinion, the original Alien is still one of the best sci-fi films, not to mention horror films, ever made — and Prometheus, I hope, looks like it’s going to be an excellent quasi-prequel.