My God — It’s Full of Boobs

So, we’re in the Golden Age of Television (or Platinum Age, if some are to be believed). The number of truly excellent series on television is at an all-time high, while movies — with few exceptions — are stuck in a mire of bland mediocrity.

(Which is where risk aversion gets you. Pervasive art-by-comittee will avert most gargantuan flops, but it will also produce generic, bland, by-the-number films, more oriented towards passing muster with accountants and managers than thrilling audiences. The one exception being superhero films, for now.)

The problem with the new Golden Age of Television is this: there are too many goddamned boobies.

For whatever reason, the leading shows of the new Golden Age, save for the very best (AMC’s Breaking Bad and Mad Men, for those living under rocks) are filled to the brim with rampant boobies.

Magic City? Pervasive nudity and softcore sex. Spartacus? Ditto. Boardwalk Empire? Yup. True Blood? You betcha. Weeds, Californication, Homeland? Check, check, and check. It’s to the point that even the notoriously nudity-prone Game of Thrones seems relatively demure in comparison.

To forestall the critics, I’m not criticizing this on moral grounds, but on artistic ones — it’s all so pointless.

Look, we live in the Internet Age. And I am reliably informed that, in this Internet Age, pictures of boobies are not in short supply. You can find them just about anywhere. And for free!

Big boobies, small boobies, medium boobies. Shapely boobies, average boobies, hideous boobies.  Pale boobies, less-pale boobies, tanned boobies. Boobies on tall women, boobies on short women, boobies on medium women. Boobies from Scandinavia, boobies from Russia, boobies from California, boobies from China and Korea and Thailand and Somalia and Brazil… boobies from any race, place, color, country, county, or creed, and all of the places that boobies can be. Fake boobies, real boobies, boobies where you can’t quite tell, they’re probably fake, but — dear God! — you hope not. Boobies on amateurs, boobies on pros, even — gasp! — boobies on celebrities.

Bosoms, melons, milk factories, busts, funbags, knockers, ballistics, boobies, jugs, nipples, jubblies, STONKING… GREAT… TITS.

Here’s the point: you know how tired you are, after reading the word “boobies” twenty-seven — now twenty-eight — times? That’s how sick one gets of real boobies (twenty-nine) after an hour of Spartacus.

I’ve reached maximum boobies overload.

I can’t remember how young I was when I first noticed boobies, but I knew I liked them. So far as I know, I’ve always liked them. But modern television is making me sick of seeing boobies.

And frankly, that’s a crime against boobies. Boobies should be many things — enticing, alluring, amazing, compelling, captivating, inviting — but never boring.

See, eroticism requires a modicum of restraint. Remember Peggy Carter from Captain America? The leggy dame in the red dress was the Tsar Bomb of sexiness, capable of destroying a roomful of men with a small smile and demure stride.

That was sexiness. And never once a hint of nudity.

Sex and violence are the classic appeals to the human viscera — they move us on levels we’re not fully aware of, that we can’t be fully aware of. (That’s why “sex sells”.) Pagan cults knew this, as did the Romans, and so do we.

Modern nudity, ostensibly a paean to Eros, is in fact the antithesis of allure. Vulgarity is not enticing. It is obvious, it is trashy, and it is ultimately boring.

The producers of the Golden Age of Television have turned the sheer wonder and beauty of the female form into something you have to endure to get to the good parts, like grinding an MMO. And that’s a high price to pay, in return for seeing a few boobies.

(Thirty-seven.)

The Virtues of Classes and Levels

One of the biggest problems among RPG fandom (and, it must be said, all fandoms) is the prevalence of One True Wayism: “My preferences are objectively the best for everyone.”

Well, hooey! Simply, provably untrue. (Unless I’m saying it. Because, you know, I’m awesome.)

In my experience, any game designer (or any designer, engineer, or artist, period) who can’t explain the drawbacks of his own choices, and the benefits other choices might offer, doesn’t understand his own work well enough to produce something great. (Unless it’s wholly by accident, like Kevin Siembieda or George Lucas.)

That said, let’s talk about class/level RPG systems. (Typified by the great-grandaddy of all RPG’s, D&D.)

Class/Levels offer some very real benefits, especially to novice or casual players and DM’s.

  • Clear goals and rewards for play.
  • Easy to judge relative power of PC’s and monsters.
  • Reducing cognitive load (i.e. fewer choices) — you get what the class offers at that level. (Research on why this is valuable.)
  • Easier to balance than skill systems.
  • (wrt OSR products) Known and tested starting point makes development simpler (as a lot of decisions have already been made).
  • Campaign color is easily implemented with classes. (See Arcana Evolved.)

That said, I find class-level systems incredibly stultifying. Seriously, they cause mental cramps each time I see people worrying about how to represent their exact character within the confines of a rigid system:

“I want a wizard with armor and a sword, like Gandalf.” “I want a fighter who can sneak.” “I want a trap-finding character who is aces at combat.”

Backgrounds, themes, all that — they’re attempts to evade restrictions that are fundamental to the mechanics. Nice, within their scope, but evidence that the mechanics are constrained — by deliberate design.

In other words, what makes them great for novices and causal players, is what makes them bad for me.

I don’t like levels, as a player or GM, and I’d never write them into a game. That said, as a person interested in RPG design, I’d be an idiot not to try and understand why they work and why people still play class-level games after all these years.

Length of Combat

Combat is a core part of RPG’s, for several reasons. But in some games it just lasts too damn long.

What I realized recently — after discussing the issue with some people online — is that combat length should vary. Fighting a crowd of mooks can go quickly. An epic battle against a main villain may take a bit longer.

In Infinity, the primary limiter on combat length is morale. Morale is “the confidence, enthusiasm, and discipline of a person or group at a particular time”.

In plain English, “how much crap you can take and still be in the fight”. People with low morale break at the slightest sign of resistance. People with high morale will fight to the death.

Obviously, how long combat is will depend on where you set that slider for this group of combatants. “To the death” = “me fight you long time.” “Don’t shoot me, G-Man!” = “it’s over already?”

Morale measures how many Wounds a character is can suffer before breaking*. If their side has the Advantage, each point adds to their Morale. If the enemy does, each point subtracts from it.

Easy. Simple. Direct.

Good enough to take to testing, at least.

(*Player Characters are immune from Morale mechanics. Players, OTOH, can definitely be spooked.)

LucasArts is No More

The Star Wars software studio is no more. Read the (kind-of) sad news here.

My first reaction was to blame Disney. “Heartless corporation, blah, blah, blah.”

Then I remembered how long its been since LucasArts did anything worthwhile (the linked article has the dirty details). And how much they tried to force us to accept the deep-dish shit sandwich that is the Prologue Trilogy Era.

And the fact that the last great Star Wars games — Star Wars: Battlefront I and II — weren’t done by LucasArts. And the fact that, despite the two being the best-selling Star Wars games in history, how the studio never managed to produce a proper next-gen* (X-Box 360 and PS3) followup to the two, even after 8 years.

The studio died of its own incompetence.

And then I felt alright. Failure should have consequences. Too many incompetent businesses stumble on, protected from the ugly realities of failure by their corporate masters.

It’s good that this one example of failure should be allowed to fail. They’ve been coasting for over a decade. It was time to put the nag out of its misery.

LucasArts had become Old Yeller, I realized, and Disney shot it. And then I was happy.

(*Why do we still call the 360 and PS3 “next-gen”, when they’re on the verge of becoming last-gen? Makes no damn sense.)