Digital Scofflaw

Blog of Michael Robinson, photographer and occasional blogger.

Ragnarok: War of Gods follows in the footsteps of 2003′s Ragnarok Online

I remember when I first tried Ragnarok Online (RO) after it launched in June of 2003. Prontera, the game’s main town, was huge. And busy. I spent a day trying to find my way around it, long before I figured out how to get to the fields where adventure awaited. I quit it soon after, and didn’t give it another thought until a friend told me about this new thing called a “private server.”

These tended to make up for the irritations of the official servers. Warpers took you to fields and dungeons. A simple command would shuttle monster drops straight into your inventory. Lots of little conveniences like that. I didn’t know they were illegal at the time since I was used to LAN games where they gave you a client and server. I later learned the economics of MMORPGs like RO are very different and they need a mass of players on the company’s servers to be viable, but that’s for another post. The company hired to develop War of Gods understood all this.

There’s a little button in War of Gods that selects and interacts with NPCs and monsters. If it’s a monster, you attack. If it’s an NPC, you talk. If there’s an item nearby, the pick-up button takes it. It’ll even show you where NPCs, portals, and monsters are on the map and walk you there with a single tap. Of course, every MMORPG made in the last five years has most of these, but RO was one of the first, and lacks a lot of modern niceties. War of Gods is what I see as the first true sequel to Ragnarok Online.

So far, it looks like they’ve learned from the long-running cash shop in the original RO. I haven’t hit a cash shop wall so far, and I don’t expect to. Most of the items are there to speed the game up. The game moves at a decent pace as-is, but I could see myself buying items if I wanted to save time.

My main gripe so far is that the music in the main town, Lan Forta, is a shortened version of one of the field background tracks from the original RO. The looping is very shoddy, so you hear it start over every few seconds. For the most part, the music is remixed from the original game and loops cleanly.

Make sure you start on the quests early. I didn’t really need them since this game is almost identical to the original in terms of mechanics, skills, and equipment, but it does give you a lot of helpful rewards, like a little Poring pet that scoops loot up for you. The quests are fairly simple, and you can move between them using the lists in the minimap. You’ll see three kinds of NPCs in the list: plain with no markers, NPCs with a grayed out question mark, and NPCs with a bright yellow question mark. The grayed out ones are for NPCs in a previous part of a quest. The currently yellow ones are for the next step. This makes swiping through to find the next step very easy.

Equipment is much easier to figure out in War of Gods. In RO, you had to read guides and run extensive calculations to figure out the ideal equipment for your purposes. In this game, green means better than what you’re wearing. At least, as far as I can tell. Limiting customization does take some of the fun out of the game, but it makes the game more accessible to casual players who tend to pay more of the money that keeps the game running. It’s a trade I’m happy to take.

One thing I miss from RO: multiple selections when selling items to an NPC merchant. I have to tap the item, click sell, then repeat for the next. In RO, you could just click until all the items were ready to sell, and hit the button.

But that’s as far as I plan to go for now. Like its predecessor, it’s dull and repetitive, so the game is only fun when you have friends to talk to while running between NPCs and fields on quests. Ragnarok: War of Gods is worth playing, but bring a friend or two.

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I tried out a few popular gay dating apps

It’s hard being a geek in a small suburban town. The people here are nice, but we don’t have much in common. This makes dating the traditional way somewhat difficult. Fortunately, this is the 21st century, and there are apps for this.

First up was Grindr. It’s one of the older and more popular gay dating apps, and it has a reputation as a place for quick, no strings attached sex. That’s not what I want, but I’ve seen enough stories of people finding lasting, happy relationships with it, so I decided to give it a shot. I hopped on the app and checked the Nearby tab. I found a sea of gay people within a 30 mile radius. Awesome.

The messages flooded in despite having no details in my profile. “Hey.” “How’s it going?” One unsolicited nude mirror shot. One flaccid dick pic. Unimpressed. The stereotype about this app is true, but I’m still going to check in on it every once in a while to see if I can find one of those fairy tale endings.

Next up was Scruff. Scruff is slang for a young, fit, energetic person with a lot of hair. It’s turned into a more general-purpose dating app like Grindr, so you’ll find all kinds of guys on there. The selection is a lot better than Grindr, but it’s still predominately a hookup app. I’m not super-comfortable browing on an app that reveals your rough location and tells people you looked at them. OkCupid–which I reviewed–does that, but it doesn’t tell people how close you are.

The obvious next choice, for me, was a new upstart in the dating app space: Hornet. It’s supposed to deal with the problem of dating apps: they all seem to become general purpose hookup apps as the user base grows. You get more room for a proper profile, and the list of new locals makes it easier to find guys who are different from the stale crowd you see every time you open the app.

It gives you space for more than one public photo, so you’re not stuck with putting the goods out front to entice people. I like this feature a lot. You swipe down to see other photos until you hit the private photo wall, at which point you can request access. There’s some etiquette to this that I haven’t figured out. Most guys use it to show themselves getting progressively less clothed, until you hit the last public image that shows what they’re really interested in.

I think this produces a more honest situation than Grindr can handle with its single photo. On Grindr, most guys around here have a dull selfie of themselves sitting in a restaurant or at a park, then let on that they don’t really want a relationship in their bio. With Hornet, you figure it out in the second picture and don’t have to waste time reading their bio. A picture really is worth a thousand words.

I noticed the much-touted virtual location feature wasn’t available, so I sent a feedback email. To my surprise, the CEO of the company responded. The feature isn’t available yet, but they’re working on getting it to the Kindle version. And there I was looking forward to creeping on friends in Seattle.

Hornet is my current top choice, and it’s where I go when I want to chat with someone local about geeky things. I just hope it gets more users so I don’t see the same 20 people every time I open it.

Adventures in gay denial and self-acceptance

If I were overly concerned with search engine optimization, I would title this “How to know if you are gay.” It was a search query among many similar I checked more than a few times, and it didn’t help much. I found out what really caused all the random feelings and thoughts that caused my doubts, and it’s something I didn’t find in any of those pages.

When I was younger, a friend had this really cool treehouse. You could see half the neighborhood. But I was scared. I couldn’t do more than climb to the top step and park my head on the floor. I had good friends, so they didn’t judge me. Then one day, I finally got up the courage to go all the way. It was great! I got a round of applause. Then the next day, it got torn down. It was deemed a safety hazard by some jackass bureaucrat.

This was me when I started questioning. The thought of being gay still scared me, so I couldn’t really let myself merge into the reality of it. I spent a month comparing reactions to straight porn and gay porn, binge reading personal stories seeing if anything matched, and going nuts with doubt. I decided I couldn’t live like that. I couldn’t spend my days comparing and questioning only to die unfulfilled and confused.

A month after that, I’ve almost completely accepted who and what I am. And it’s great. Here’s some stuff I learned along the way.

Advice

You will become more sensitive to your feelings as you get more comfortable with the idea of being gay. Feelings come and go early on because you’ve spent your life suppressing them. Healing takes time.

Questioning your sexuality is stressful. Stress kills sex drive. This includes physical and emotional attraction. This will confuse you. Make sure you relax completely at least once a day, and I don’t mean when you go to bed.

Every gaybashing, proposed homophobic law, and hateful screed will make you doubt yourself early on. By the time you approach self-acceptance, they have the opposite effect.

You won’t feel every kind of attraction to every person of the same sex. Some will do nothing for you. This is normal whether you’re gay or straight.

Binge orientation checking–looking at pictures, etc.–is stressful. If you really can’t stop yourself, focus more on faces, and stick to big images. There’s a reason so much mythology focuses on the power contained in the face, and especially in the eyes.

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Adventures in gay dating on OKCupid

Barrow County is a nice enough place. The editor of the local newspaper came out in favor of gay marriage, and no one complained too loudly. People are coming around. But still, it’s a small county without much of a scene for anything aside from drinking, racing, and mountain biking. Options for dating are limited even if you’re straight. So off I went to OKCupid.

OKCupid is a modestly popular free online dating site. I had a profile on the site from back when I was deep in denial and thought I simply hadn’t found the right woman. I ditched the site when none of the women appealed to me. So I gave it another shot with the orientation toggled on over to gay. There’s one gay guy on there within 5 miles of city limits, a few more in the county, and about 100 if I stretch my range out to Athens-Clarke County.

Some issues stood out:

1. About half of them have a picture of a woman hanging off their shoulder as a profile picture

This raises some important questions. Is he a closet case who hopes that someone outs him so he doesn’t have to do it himself? Did he select the wrong orientation? Is that his sister? Who knows. Next.

2. Broken human being

It’s cool that you acknowledge all your faults right there in your dating site profile, but you don’t seem eager to resolve them. Show me what you plan to do about it. Otherwise, they’re deal breakers. Next.

3. ADVENTURES

One guy OKCupid tried to hook me up with has pictures of him skydiving, posing in exotic locations, and having whacky adventures. I don’t mind getting out and exploring, but what do you do in your down time? Omitting this tells me you never stop partying, adventuring, or whatever to get away from something you’d rather not confront. Next.

4. Half-assed profile

Two sentences about how random you are tells me a lot about you. It tells me you lack the confidence to share anything about yourself. It tells me you need someone else to give you direction so you don’t have to look inward. Next.

So where does this leave me? As it turns out, I’m surrounded by very attractive people. Surrounded in relative terms. They’re about as unstereotypical as gay guys get: interested in racing, sports, bars. Usual straight guy fare. They probably get some mileage out of the bars.

That’s not my thing. Reading. Writing. Nature. Science. Technology. These are my things. So I’ll probably end up finding someone outside the dating site scene who happens to live nearby. Maybe I’ll bump into them checking out Nature magazine at the supermarket. But I don’t plan to stay here for long. I want to move close enough to a city to be within walking distance of something. The nearest anything is a 30 minute walk. I intend to get together enough income to move to Atlanta where I have more options.

I’ve never heard of a Liebster award

But I’m going to go along with it since I got a nomination: http://www.tonynoland.com/2014/02/paging-dr-liebster-dr-liebster-line-one.html

1. When did you start writing?

I grew up buried under the books — owned and library — of a professional editor and a journalism major. I don’t think there was a “start.”

2. Has anyone ever actually told you not to quit your day job?
I can’t discuss the details of ongoing investigations.

3. Is there a favorite food you eat that gives you inspiration to write?
Store brand Doritos

4. Microsoft Word: love it, hate it, or something else?
LibreOffice

5. Do you own an e.book reader, or use e.book software? If so, what kind? If not, do you see one in your future?
Kindle Fire HD; the cheapo 2013 model. I use it more than my laptop.

6. You’re given a book promotion opportunity to sit in a bookstore window and write. People passing by will be able to read your work as you produce it. Do you agree?
Only if I can write cheesy romance that touches on every possible fetish.

7. Is there a crowd/gang/posse/support group of writers you belong to, either in person or online?
A little subforum that hides in a much bigger forum.

8. What’s your minimum length for a novel?
Can’t be long enough if I enjoy the story.

9. “Write drunk, edit sober.” Is this good advice?
Maybe.

10. Can you have a strong opinion about an author’s personality, political views, social positions, etc., without having that color your opinion about the author’s work?
Those things tend to inform the quality and content of their work. I don’t know if they can be separated.

Naturally, my nominees are Amalia Dillin for myth-heavy fiction and Valerie Valdes for her quality tweets.

Questions for them:
1. You both have wonderful families. How do you balance being wonderful back to them and writing regularly? Asking for a friend.
2. How does the local climate inform your writing?
3. What is your favorite Twitter hashtag and why?
4. Thoughts on traditional publishing?

Into the furry abyss: What is a furry anyway?

The definition of furry generally falls into two camps:

All-encompassing: This definition doesn’t concern itself with self-identification. If you’ve ever watched a Saturday mornng cartoon or played Star Fox without thinking it’s icky, you’re a furry. This is an unpopular definition since it takes agency away from people and makes furries look like jerks.

Self-identification: Most people seem to agree with this one, and it’s the one I think is best. You can’t make someone accept a label without forcing all the connotations that come with it. Trying to force a label only breeds resentment.

I like anthro art, check out progress photos for a local fursuit builder, doodle fox ears on boxes, and read /r/furry from to time, but I don’t consider myself a furry. That’s more to do with my feelings about labels and the way they attract negative connotations. In a perfect world, I wouldn’t have a problem with the label.

Most furries can be stuffed into a category:

1. Fursuiter. A lot of people have an odd idea of what one does with a fursuit. The thing people imagine happening would void the warranty and put them on the builder’s blacklist. A basic fursuit costs thousands of dollars. It’s a big investment, and no one would want to be shunned by the person who knows how to fix normal wear and tear.

Many people get in to fursuiting to entertain:

Others get in to it to do crazy things like skydiving:

Most just do normal stuff:

2. Artist. Art is the biggest part of the furry subculture. Most of the art isn’t all that good. Some of it is, and it’s worth checking out. The easiest way to find it, if you don’t know where to look, is on deviantART with the all-time popular sorting.

3. Porn fiend. Now to the sticky…I mean tricky subject of porn. Yes, there’s a lot of it. And it’s so abundant that you have trouble avoiding it if you spend any time looking for anthro art. Most furry art sites have a filter for it, but some will slip past. Either people forgot to tag it or they do it on purpose.

Whether or not furry porn is bad is one of those personal philisophical things, and I try not to judge people for their preferences. I just wish they’d tag it better so it wouldn’t pop up in unexpected places.

Myths and misconceptions

Let’s not kid ourselves: most of the bad stuff exists. There’s a lot of drama. Some really do believe in “fursecution,” and there’s all kinds of hilarious, lengthy posts about people “coming out” as a furry when no one really cares enough for it to matter. There are people who make a career out of drawing furry porn.

But the furry subculture is a big, diverse thing. Rule 34 is in full effect, but that’s true of anything. And like everything, the worst parts of it are the most obvious if you don’t look past what you hear second hand.

Book Review: Verbosity’s Vengeance

Stan Lee, Mark Twain, and Gene Roddenberry walk into a bar.

Imagine every argument you’ve heard on the Internet where a prescriptivist and a descriptivist battle over the finer points of the grammar in something that means nothing. Now imagine those two people have super powers, and hold the fate of the city in their hands.

I had a lot of trouble keeping up with the battle scene the book opened to, but it was a temporary pain. I forgot about it by chapter 2. Unfortunately, it turns out I’m not as interested in reading about superheros as I thought.

My copy of this Spiderman comic is still sitting in a drawer after 18 years, and I like Spiderman through the movies and TV shows. I can imagine someone who loves comic books enjoying this book. Verbosity’s Vengeance is well-written, aware of all the tropes and cliches it uses, and worth checking out.

Six things I learned before starting a novel

I want to get this down on digital paper before I become a world famous novelist. Maybe you’ll find it useful.

1. I didn’t start with a novel. I wrote 30,000 words of short stories with several different characters and different subplots before starting on the novel. Most of these plots became the first 3000 words of the novel, and set up enough loose ends to fill the rest.

2. It’s not just a tired old cliche. Abiding the old and wise show, don’t tell advice is easier if you close your eyes for a few minutes and run through the scene in your head.

3. You need to plan ahead. Plotting at least a chapter ahead helps a lot, even if you diverge from it while writing. I rarely get writer’s block once I run out of plot and start working on the next, and I think planning a chapter ahead is responsible.

4. Software is your friend. I give each chapter a branch on the root. Then each character’s trip though that chapter gets its own branch, even if they never appear. For example, if a character is investigating the assassination of the king, his plot will run alongside the character who’s escorting the prince to his coronation.

This helps me keep a handle on which character knows what at any given point. These can easily become another chapter with a different POV character.

5. People are people. Repeat after me: people are people. While looking for advice on writing fiction, I found reams of “How do I write a x character?” forum posts where x is gay, woman, child, or something else outside the writer’s experience. Start with a person, then modify their interactions with the world based on how that world treats their attributes.

Throw stereotypes out the window and find people who’ve shared their lived experiences, then find a way to make your gay/woman/child/whatever character interesting using those attributes. The world has had enough of effeminite gay men frollicking around a bunch of angry, burly strongmen getting ready to pummel him for offending their cliche sensibilities.

5a. You absolutely should seek out information on these experiences. A gay person in a fantasy world where homosexuality is normal and accepted will still have a different experience of the world. Knowing more about real people and what real people experience, both in the present and past, will help make your fiction more convincing.

6. Research isn’t just for accuracy. My novel’s world takes influences from: post-seclusion Japan, kitsune lore, the society and politics around world wars one and two, the industrialization of the United States, post-Charlemagne Europe, and whatever else I find interesting. Combine enough of what’s already happened in a clever enough way, and you can create something that’s entertaining while giving history and literature majors something to chew on.

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