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"When everything is possible, nothing is interesting."  -- HG Wells

That quote from H.G. Wells is from a review of the last BSG episode, linked from a detailed analysis of said episode by EFF Director Brad Templeton, who says that the series finale was "most disappointing ending ever."  I don't know if I would go that far, but I was extremely disappointed -- I didn't write about it because I didn't end seeing it until about a month or two after it actually aired, and figured it was kind of late for that.

However, the more I read his analysis, the more I realized he was echoing pretty much everything that I thought about the episode (though I admit the bad science didn't bother my as much, partly because my grasp of biology and genetics is not quite as strong as his).  I think the most interesting part of his analysis for me was that it echoed a lot of the same general complaints I had about the plot of The Empyrean Age.  With the second Eve novel on the horizon, and nearly a year passed since that review, I thought I'd try to explain why I feel so strongly about the Eve storyline and why I keep coming back to it time and time again (even though I'm sure some of you are getting real tired of it).

Eve Online is a unique environment in that unlike nearly every other MMO or virtual world out there, there is only one "shard" for the vast majority of players (not counting the Serenity China cluster, which has a much smaller playerbase and I believe is run fairly autonomously).  Not only does this provide some very interesting gameplay dynamics, but it also provides a unique storytelling opportunity.

Part of this is the stories players create -- when BoB, Goonswarm, and the Northern Coalition collide in massive space battles, or hard-fought territorial contests, or daring espionage attempts, their actions have repercussions that everyone in the game can feel.  Unlike with a sharded game, I cannot isolate myself from events by moving to another server.  Even smaller scale events, like empire wars between small corps or simply pirates camping a chokepoint, can have repercussions throughout the game world, or at least in their local area.

However, it also provides an unparallelled storytelling opportunity for the game developers.  The fact that there is only one shard means that the story can be manageably changed based on player feedback (by which I mean gameplay-wise, not simply comments).  On a sharded game, this becomes impossible to manage as the various shards all go in different directions.  If you set up a conflict between two entities, the various permutations of events become harder to keep track of and adjust for, especially as they stack upon one another.  You end up having to keep a storyline group or at least a developer for every shard, something that probably does not get much return on investment, considering that some games have a large number of shards (WoW has over 200 shards for North America alone).

Eve has a tremendous advantage here.  With a single shard, they can create immersive plotlines that respond to player influence -- therefore getting more people involved in the plotline (at least emotionally) and increasing its value as a retention tool.  It also allows complex storylines that can be unfolded over the course of months or years, with ripple effects that filter through to everyone in the game, and created shared experienced.  Old Eve players, including myself, will still talk about momentous events in the game they witnessed -- I can still remember seeing the CONCORD battlefleet on its way to break the m0o blockade of Mara and Passari, way back in the months shortly after release, and there's plenty of other examples I could point to.  That event is especially interesting because it was driven by the actions of players.  Whether or not you think m0o was acting within the rules of the game and this was "unfair," or whether you think they were exploiting game mechanics, you cannot deny that they prompted an event in which the NPC world of Eve collided with the PC world.

This continued through AURORA events; as flawed as they may have been, and I can't deny there were problems, they were CCP's best tool for tying the storyline of the game to the world of the players.  Few other games have that kind of strong connection -- by the very nature of their design, most MMOs, if they have a storyline at all, only have a one-way interaction, from NPC world to PC world, if that.  Now that they are gone, I think most of us in the Eve roleplaying community feel like a lot of the immersion and emotional reward of roleplaying has been lost.  Interaction between the game's storyline and the actions of players has been reduced to a few notes in the margins, a few news articles, and a medal for those of us in the Caldari militia.  This is a far cry from when I remember reading how Omerta Syndicate was blown away by an AURORA actor simply acknowledging their own backstory.

CCP has this kind of storytelling power at its disposal, but I feel like they have become too afraid to use it, largely as a result of some scandals that I think may have been somewhat overblown and could have been corrected without such a drastic measure.  Unfortunately, they have also made the choice to go from a very static setting to one that changes overnight based on, in my opinion, some unnecessarily outlandish events.  That is what I thought about when I read that HG Wells quote at the top of this post, specifically comments TonyG made at last year's FanFest about aspects of his book, about how science fiction makes anything possible.

I'm not going to rehash those arguments here -- you can look back and see what I've said before if you want.  What I will say is that the reason I feel so passionately about the Eve storyline, and wanting it to be as strong as possible, is because it is so unique, and because it has the possibility of showing that this kind of a dynamic, player-responsive storyline can actually work on a large scale.  This sort of thing has been done before, on a much smaller scale, with RP-intensive MUDs like Armageddon; they have a far smaller player base however, and are largely run as hobbies, not as businesses, so they don't have as good a chance of proving the argument that a good storyline has business value.

If the Eve storyline fades into irrelevance, if it becomes just a bit of decoration, then it becomes that much harder to make a business case for spending the money to hire good writers for games like this.  As someone who thinks that story is one of the most important parts of any game, and who feels that it is important that gameplay elements be closely tied to that storyline, I don't want to see that happen.  I admit, part of it is for selfish reasons -- someday, I'd really like to work in the industry on projects like that.  The larger issue, though, is that I think that is something of greater value to the art of game design and storytelling, and I don't want to see an opportunity squandered.

Kings

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If you haven't heard of this show, it's NBC's latest attempt at something ambitious that will probably be canceled within a month - a modern-day retelling of the story of the Biblical David (of David and Goliath), starring Ian McShane (of Lovejoy and Deadwood fame) and Chris Egan (of nothing I've ever seen).  Set in the fictional Kingdom of Gilboa, the show appears to take place in an alternate universe of some sort, which the show is dropping hints about slowly as it goes on.

If you know me, you probably know alternate universe sort of stuff pushes a lot of my buttons, and so far, Kings has been doing a good job of putting things together, with a lot of tantalizing leads dangled out there.  I've enjoyed the first two episodes; the writing is pretty good so far, though considerably more theatrical than say The West Wing, which is the closest comparison I can really make.  Considering the subject though, that seems somewhat appropriate.

The religious stuff has, so far at least, been pretty subtle -- another bit I like.  David, protected by divine favor, is basically just really lucky so far, though there is one moment in the first episode where it's a bit more heavyhanded.  That moment is set up well, however, and I was willing to give it a pass and just go with it.  If the show sticks to this sort of thing, and doesn't try to make itself a retelling of the Biblical story with the serial numbers filed off and instead uses that as a general idea and goes in its own direction, I think I'll be pretty happy with it.

The show does suffer from one issue, and that is that the lead, Egan, is a bit of a weak link in the acting of the show.  Considering who else is on the show, that may be forgiveable -- McShane is an acting juggernaut, Eamonn Walker and Dylan Baker are both regulars, and Brian Cox and Miguel Ferrer guest-starred this week -- but hopefully he'll grow into his role as the weeks go on.

Fortunately, they have already shot the full 13 episodes of the series, so if nothing else we should get a decent miniseries out of it -- but I hope NBC gives it a chance to survive.  I encourage you to watch if it sounds at all interesting -- you can find all the episodes here on Hulu.
Recently, I've been Netflixing the DVDs of the James Burke's Connections series.  If you're not familiar with them, the premise of the show is to illustrate how seemingly unrelated historical events and technological innovations create some of the most important things that you find in the modern world.  One episode, for instance, shows how a test for the purity of gold is related to the development of atomic weapons, and another shows how an Arab caliph's sickness in the 8th Century led to modern mass production, and yet another shows how the Little Ice Age led to the development of aircraft.

Aside from being fascinating to watch on their own, this series of documentaries is extremely interesting to me in that it mirrors my thoughts about world building -- that each element of a fictional world should be interconnected to as many other elements of the world as possible, and that those connections should be considered very carefully when you're going through and building that world.  This is something that I tend to argue about a fair bit on the Chatsubo, with regard to Eve Online and its storyline; my latest trouble has been with the given population on Seyllin I, the focus of the latest big patch day downtime news barrage.

Why does this bug me so much?  I don't know.  A deep and complex world has been a big selling point for me on RPGs, books, movies, TV series...pretty much everything.  I think it's largely just personal preference -- some people really like well-developed characters or witty dialogue, I like well-developed settings.  And, ever since I started writing, that's been a focus for my writing, possibly to my detriment, since I tend to focus on that almost above everything else a lot of the time.  I would like to think that there's more to it, though.

In a way, Connections is a world building exercise that works in the opposite way an author usually works; whereas I say "okay, if we have this in the world, how did it come out about and what does that mean for the rest of the world," Burke says "we had this and this and this, and how did all those things come together to create a world in how we have that?"

I really feel like this sort of analytic approach is key, especially for creating a game setting.  In a novel or movie, your viewpoint is generally limited -- for instance, if we look at something like Alien, we don't need to know much really about the state of the world outside the Nostromo, except as it affects the main characters in that movie.  We know there's a corporation, and it hires these spacers to go around and haul this ore, and they can travel faster than light, and so on and so forth -- but we don't need to know what sort of government there is, or how many people live on Earth, or how many colonies they have, or anything like that.  We only need to illuminate as much of that other world as the characters in that story see; if you think of it like a film set, actually, we don't need to construct a full-scale replica of the Nostromo, we only need to build the parts the camera is going to see.  We should make those as detailed and lifelike as possible, but if it's out of the camera shot it's not really going to show in the final product.  Yes, you can do it -- the attention Syd Mead paid to a lot of the elements of Blade Runner is an example -- but it is far less necessary.

In contrast, in a game setting, especially an RPG, where you are going to have people using it in all sorts of different ways, and have characters from all sorts of different backgrounds, and have all sorts of different adventures, the "camera shot" of the universe becomes far wider.  You can't simply ignore a lot of this stuff because at some point, it may very well come into play.  Obviously, you can constrain this somewhat; you don't need a 300 page sourcebook on medical technology if the game is not Space Doctors: The Healening, but you should at least give some mention of the general things that medical science can do if the characters are likely to have to deal with it at some point.  John Ossoway has done something like this for Cthulhu Rising, for instance, in the Rough Guide.

And this is where I think I run into my issues with some of the things in the Eve storyline, especially over the last year or so.  Where is the Rough Guide to Eve Online?  As far as I can tell, there isn't really one; certainly, there's nothing really out there available to the public, which is frustrating for at least some of the players (I know it can't just be me).  One of the things I really liked about Mass Effect is that they actually took the time to think about a lot of that stuff, even though, as a single player game where your "camera shot" is going to be a lot smaller than in a pen-and-paper RPG or MMORPG, most of it is not really necessary.  While you could say this was all just wasted effort, I suspect the primary benefactor of the Codex was not the audience but the writing staff of the game.  By writing down and setting that stuff in stone, now the writers can all work from the same assumptions about the game world and play off each other's ideas without making the setting seem schizophrenic and disjoint -- you don't have one part of the game where you're told everyone has personal rocketships and another part where everyone is living in abject poverty eating gruel three times a day.

I think it's the fact that that's dismissed as a backburner issue by a lot of people in the discussions I have about the Eve storyline is what frustrates me so much.
So over the last few weeks I've been watching a fair bit of movies and TV simply because I have to spend about 4 hours a day lying in bed doing nothing.  In addition to watching all of the commentaries and extra features in my Freaks and Geeks boxed set (which, by the way, is well worth it -- I'm still horribly disappointed I never caught it when it was first airing and that it got canceled), I upped my Netflix subscription to two movies at a time to try and fill the hours.

The first bunch of DVDs I got were the third season of Forever Knight.  I'm more than willing to admit that the first two seasons of the show were a lot cheesier than I remembered (though I don't really regret having them on DVD), but the third season really struck me as a very Silk Stalkings-ified version of the show when I saw the first few episodes on USA (and promptly gave up on it, after staying up at weird hours to watch the second season).  I figured I might as well watch to see if it was as bad as I thought (and see the last episode, which I had never seen).  On the whole, it ended up being probably a little better than what I expected, but I think it was definitely still a big step down from the first two seasons, which had quite a few episodes that were far better than the usual late night syndicated junk.  Probably the worst change was the loss of John Kapelos and Deborah Duchene (Schanke and Janette) for Lisa Ryder and Ben Bass, something that always struck me as kind of a lowest-common-denominator move.  And the last episode was....well, really pretty disappointing and a definite downer.

That was followed, however, by probably the best find I've come across in quite a while, No Maps For These Territories, a documentary that's basically an hour and a half discussion with William Gibson on his writing, information age society, futurism, and a variety of other topics while he rides around in the back of a limo.  If you are a big Gibson fan (and I am), you will probably enjoy it; if you aren't that interested in William Gibson, there's no reason for you to see this movie (well, duh).  He talks about almost every aspect of his life, and his discussion of Neuromancer was especially interesting for me, going a long way towards explaining why it is so different from most of his other books.  I'll probably end up buying this one actually, simply because I didn't get enough time to really digest the movie or the associated extras (including more interview snippets that didn't make it into the body of the movie itself).  The only thing I can say is that the movie is made in such a way that it is a little more "artistic" than it had to be for me, since I was mostly interested in what he was saying and not the visuals of the movie.

The next on this list is Ben Affleck's directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone.  Honestly, if I hadn't been told that this was his first movie as a director, I would never have known.  Almost every aspect of the movie is done in a way that really shows a good eye for the camera and for getting the actors to really bring their characters to life.  I suspect that the fact that the movie takes place (and was shot in) Affleck's hometown of Boston helped contribute to this in the same way it did with Good Will Hunting; many of the people in this movie are simply residents of the Boston neighborhood where it was being shot.  The plot is well-written, and while I may agree slightly with Chesnut, who said it seemed a little convoluted for his tastes, I did not feel like the "twists" were just thrown in to be twists -- each one highlighted the moral choices the characters had to make.  Really, without them, the movie would not have been worth making because those twists are in the movie to highlight the central point.  I highly recommend seeing this movie, though I will say it will probably not leave you with a good feeling at the end.

Michael Clayton is a movie that probably won't leave you with a warm fuzzy feeling at the end either, but it too is a good movie.  Unlike Gone Baby Gone, though, this film feels a bit more formulaic and not nearly as authentic (but maybe it wasn't trying to be).  The performances, by George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson, and Tilda Swinton most notably, were as good as I'd expect from actors of that caliber, and the writing for each scene was well done, but the plot that holds it all together, as Chesnut wrote in his capsule review, seems kind of like Another Lawyer Movie.  Still worth watching, though, and I think the actors and writers probably deserved their Oscar nominations, but on the other hand, I am glad that it didn't win the Best Picture Oscar, though so far I've only seen one of the other nominees.

Last for this installment was The Golden Compass, which I just watched the other night.  Obviously made as a Narnia-like attempt to cash in on the Lord of the Rings' success (which doesn't necessarily make it bad), this suffers from the fact that it feels like half of a movie and there was no guarantee the other half was going to get made.  The film's climax seems like should be about where the Mines of Moria scene was in Fellowship, but instead it ends with the film's real conflict hanging in the wind.  That being said, I didn't think the movie was really bad, it just felt like it fell short of what it was trying to be.  The CGI, which was a large part of the movie, was competently done, and for the most part looked real, and I liked the sort of Victorian steampunk style aesthetic.  It sounds like the sequel is still going to be made (largely due to its strength overseas, it sounds like), so maybe I'll like it more with the next part.  I was disappointed by how bare-bones the DVD is though; there's no commentary, no deleted scenes (and I know there were quite a few), no behind the scenes stuff.  For a movie like this, you'd think there'd at least be a little of that on the DVD, but maybe with the perceived failure of the movie at the box office no one wanted to put any money into it. 
I'm usually pretty wary of most attempts to undermine the popularity of stuff like YouTube or other "upstart" websites by established media companies; usually they end up being pretty lame or at least critically gimped in some way.  However, after having both benoc and Deidei mention watching a few things on hulu.com, I checked it out just to see how it was, especially because Deidei was trying to get me to watch Kitchen Confidential (vaguely based on Anthony Bourdain's book, which I really liked).  So I checked it out this weekend, since it's easy enough to leave a webpage open while I play Eve in another window or something.

Surprisingly enough, it doesn't suck too bad.  You are forced to watch brief commercials at certain points; this isn't horrible, since most shows would have them anyway and the commercials are only 15-30 seconds.  The only time it gets a little annoying is when it's a show that was originally shown on pay cable, like Total Recall 2070, where the commercial breaks can come at odd moments.  Furthermore, the selection of shows is surprisingly good.  I knew that it was a joint venture between NBC and FOX, but I forgot how many shows on other networks are done through them, and the catalog of old shows is surprisingly good as well.  They don't have full catalogs of all the shows there, but especially the one-season shows that were cancelled (like Firefly) they have there, which is nice if you wanted to see a show you heard about but didn't see, and don't want to take a chance on buying the DVDs (or the DVDs aren't available).

So far, I've gone through all of Kitchen Confidential (which was okay -- it was definitely better having read the book and being vaguely familiar with the craziness in a restaurant kitchen) and Total Recall 2070, which I only saw a few episodes of when it was in syndication.  It's worth checking out if you have some time to kill and you're bored.

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