Saturday, 18 October 2014

Article summary: Linguistic features in Norwegian SMS. (Part 3)

Previous section here.
First section here.

My Reaction

    This section includes my thoughts on the article, such as the possibility of carrying out a similar research in this country, and how different the results of this research could be if repeated today. The article's organization could be improved by adding an abstract at the start, even though the whole article is a mere nine pages. The abstract would give potential readers an idea of what the article contains, and might spark further interest in reading it.

    The topic of sociolinguistic features in SMS is an interesting one, as Malaysians frequently use SMS and other forms of electronic communication in for many purposes. The main purpose of SMS, emails, and calls remains constant, that is, to communicate. However, another study on the various ways of Asian communication in electronic form would be something to consider.

    Since the research mentioned in this article was carried out in 2002 and technology has advanced rapidly in the years after the study, research on this topic today would probably show different results. A study on the Malaysian use of SMS is bound to showcase the characteristic features of Malaysian English and code switching, and how SMS can change the way we express Manglish.

    The researcher discusses a few ways in which his research could be improved. In the article's introduction, he mentions that there may be selective filtering as respondents may be reluctant to share embarrassing or private messages. He has a point, as many SMS users, myself included, are bound to have messages that we'd rather keep for a few certain eyes, not for strangers to read.

    He also states that the respondents had to read out three of the last sent messages in their phones to an interviewer, which made it difficult to get an accurate transcription. Now, with the advent of email, collecting more accurate samples of SMS messages will be easier as respondents could copy the text of their messages into their emails and send them to an interviewer; should this research be carried out again.

    The researcher mentions that abbreviations do not appear very often in the sampled messages. At the time the article was written, SMS messaging was a relatively new system; so most of the widely known acronyms found in a modern SMS wouldn't exist back then. If this research was carried out again in Malaysia today, there might be more instances of abbreviations, especially Manglish-related ones.

    Women and teenagers often send more emotional SMS messages. In my opinion, this is because of the social norms in European culture, where men are expected to be stoic compared to women. This expectation is slowly being eroded as men express themselves creatively nowadays.

    In the study, users in the 20-24 age group were more likely to capitalize and punctuate their messages. This may be attributed to the fact that these users are usually in tertiary education, and the formalities of university may influence the way they compose their SMS messages. The researcher doesn't really address why young Norwegian adults tend to use relatively formal punctuation, so this is just a guess.

    Perhaps the researcher could study the effects of social class and education level on the sociolinguistic features of SMS messages, as many people from various walks of life have at least one cell phone at this time of writing. The article does not make any mention of the general social class of the randomly sampled Norwegians, although a pilot study was carried out on small-town teenagers. To sum up, the sociolinguistic features of SMS messages is a good research topic, although Rich Ling or another researcher could expand on this.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Pondering on Prudence

Prudence, a noun and a name, a virtuous one at that. Supposedly for good judgement. The first time I saw this name was when I read Enid Blyton's "Summer Term at Saint Clare's."

Prudence at Saint Clare's.
Unfortunately, the Prudence who features there is a hypocrite and a spiteful sort. Pretty much the opposite of good judgement. First of all, Prudence Arnold makes nasty remarks on almost everyone, and constantly tries to get her opinion heard.

Her first line of dialogue is a mean remark about Sadie "being a bad influence" on the class, simply because Sadie is an American. Later, she complains that playing cards will lead to gambling, and tries to get the others to debate on feminist issues. The other students blow her off as being uptight.

It is mentioned by Blyton that Prudence was brought up in a vicarage, under the strict eye of her parents. This may be part of the reason Prudence thinks she is better than the other students at school. She is portrayed by Blyton as a manipulative person, only befriending those who could help her and ignoring everyone else. She befriends Pamela because of her great intelligence, and tries to strike a friendship with Sadie after learning that Sadie will inherit a fortune as an adult.

Prudence is also unwilling to help the other students due to her mix of loner and self-righteousness. When Janet (a trickster) accidentally spills some water on Prudence, the latter starts complaining and saying that Jane meant to do so on purpose. Janet tries to get Prudence to tell the form teacher to let her off, but Prudence refuses because Janet and Bobby (Roberta) constantly play "silly" tricks in class.

Prudence did not even consider that Janet needed to go to watch a film in order to complete her history assignment, but continued to push her serious attitude in this case. Adding insult to injury, she mocks Janet for having to write out Prudence's homework notes. Bobby tried to help Janet out by imitating her writing, but Prudence, bearing a grudge, makes a fuss out of this. This causes even more trouble to the class and the other students start to notice her spiteful nature.

Throughout the novel, Prudence also sneers at Carlotta and tries to smear her reputation by finding out about the latter's background. Prudence is under the impression that if the other girls know that Carlotta isn't from a noble background, they will snub her. This backfires because the other girls happen to like circuses and aren't so particular about good backgrounds.

Another incident in the book brings Prudence's hypocritical nature to light. Bobby's second trick with a squealing biscuit irritates the French teacher into threatening the class with a test the next day. Prudence, fearing a scolding from the headmistress if she fails the test, thinks that it would be a good idea to look up the questions and answers for the test, then get top marks.

Prudence tries to explain Bobby's joke to the French teacher, hoping to sneak a look at the test as it is prepared. The French teacher becomes irritated with Prudence and sends her away. That night, Prudence decides to sneak into the teacher's room and look up the test that way. She is caught by Bobby and Carlotta. When Bobby tells Prudence off for being a hypocrite, she cries and causes the headmistress to come and investigate the situation.

It would have been better for Prudence if she studied for the test the honest way even if she didn't get good marks, in my opinion. For some reason, the French teacher decides not to hold the test after all, rendering Prudence's attempt to cheat worthless.

Near the end of the novel, Prudence becomes an accessory to kidnapping completely by mistake, thinking that a letter from a shady character was meant for Carlotta. Spite clouded her mind and made her irrational, so she went along with the shady guy's plan despite being warned by Pamela.

Personally, I believe that Prudence was expelled mainly for attempted cheating, and her part in Sadie's kidnapping was the last straw. If her serious attitude had been tempered by a kindly or just nature, she might have been able to stay on at Saint Clare's.

Why the name, if its bearer was the opposite?
I was struck mainly by the sound of it, and thought it would make a good pseudonym for someone who has completed her journeyman years. The unusual sound and virtuous meaning is why Purpure adopted Prudence as her time-traveling name, despite its rarity.

As for Prudence Trenton (alias Purpure), she is just as serious as Prudence Arnold, but Miss Trenton's serious nature is tempered by a love of jokes and the occasional trick. Miss Trenton is also very forthright and honest about everything except where she really comes from. As far as anyone can get out of Miss Trenton, she's from England.

Purpure might not be from a good background, as she's a bastard child, but she stepped beyond it to leave a legacy of an intelligent traveler with a sense of justice.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Article summary: Linguistic features in Norwegian SMS. (Part 2)

Part 1 of the summary can be found here.

This study was conducted by Rich Ling in the early 2000's, thus some of the phones described have older features.

Statistical summary.

The messages were analysed by their type/token ratio, defined as the number of different words (type) compared to the total number of words (token). The researcher's hypothesis is that the faster a medium of producing language becomes, the lower the type/token ratio would be. The researcher also justifies the hypothesis, saying that writing by hand, or even writing for formal purposes takes a long time, and one would be likely to draw on a wider range of words when there is a longer delay between thought and expressing said thought.

However, based on the type/token ratio of the studied SMS messages, it appears that SMS is an unusual case. The range of type/token ratios mentioned in the article is between 0.487 and 0.609. SMS messages are typed in with the keypad of one's cell phone, which can take a longer time to produce coherent messages.

According to the hypothesis stated in the previous paragraph, a slower method of writing should give more time for the user to think of different words, leading to a higher type/token ratio. The results in the article show otherwise, having an average type/token ratio compared to several reference texts.

The researcher points out this discrepancy by stating that SMS users often have to focus on the writing tool, that is, the keypads of their phones, so they are less likely to think of unusual words. Users between the ages of 16 to 19 years of age have the lowest type/token ratio, whereas users between the ages of 35 and 44 have the highest type/token ratio.

When the messages were analysed by mean word and message length as well as complexity, there were no statistically significant differences in the length of words between genders or age groups. There was also no significant age-based difference in the mean number of words per message. There were gender-based differences in SMS message complexity and number of words in a message.

Women were more likely to write longer and more complex SMS messages, with 6.95 words per message on average. In contrast, men tend to write simpler and shorter messages, with an average of 5.54 words per message. Females in the 16-19 age group were found to write the highest amount of complex SMS messages, while males in the same age group wrote the simplest messages.

Surprisingly enough, abbreviations weren't used often in the sampled SMS messages, and any abbreviations that showed up were mainly used by teenagers and young adults. Users who were between 20 and 24 years of age were also more likely to capitalize and punctuate their messages properly. Besides, women or younger users wrote most of the messages that included salutations or closing phrases.

The article concludes that SMS messages have features of both spoken and written language with their own unique characteristics. SMS messages are similar to spoken language in terms of immediate communication and informality. SMS is similar to writing in the assumption that the participants aren't in close proximity, and the text of an SMS message can be edited before the message is sent.

The unique characteristics of SMS messages arise from the electronic medium they originated in, such as the ability to save messages in one's cell phone. These messages only last as long as the phone's memory remains intact, which may not be as long as a letter's storage period. Norwegian women are more likely to send complex SMS messages, express their feelings and plan for more immediate events. Young adults are more likely to write messages that contain advanced capitalization and punctuation.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Article summary: Linguistic features in Norwegian SMS. (Part 1)

This is a review of a Norwegian research article back when the short-messaging system of mobile phones (SMS) was in its infancy. This text was part of an assignment in university.

Article Summary (General remarks).

Rich Ling wrote this article in 2005. It is about research on the sociolinguistic features in the short message system (SMS) as used by a random sample of Norwegians. The article introduces a brief history of SMS and its general usage in Norway. The research objectives in the paper include determining whether SMS is spontaneous or rehearsed communication, and how the desire to communicate overcame the technological limits of SMS.

In this article, the researcher examines 882 SMS messages from a random sample of Norwegians. These SMS messages were collected in May 2002 by telephone. The researcher requested demographic data from each of the respondents, as well as the last 3 SMS messages sent. However, only 463 (23%) of the respondents managed to provide the SMS messages that were requested by the researcher. 40% of women in the survey sent at least one SMS message a day, compared to the 36% of men who did. The women who sent the most messages were in the 16 to 19 age group, with an average of 9.03 messages a day.

The SMS messages were first analysed by the themes they contained, such as coordination, grooming, answers, questions, information, commands or requests, personal news, and diverse other categories. Although grooming was defined as miscellaneous emotional remarks in the analysis of the data, the “diverse other categories” grouping serves a similar function. The most common theme in the messages was coordination, which appeared in 33% of the samples, implying that most users send SMS messages in order to set up meetings or plan events.

Next, the SMS messages were analysed by socio-demographical differences. Gender differences were mentioned in the article. Men were more likely to use one-word replies in their messages and plan activities in the middle future. The middle future was defined as a few days later. Women were likely to send “grooming” type messages and plan activities for the immediate future.

The researcher also analysed the types of words that often appeared in the SMS messages. The most common word used by both men and women was du (you) while other common words included jeg (I), (on/in/at/to) and i (in/at). In general, prepositions appeared more frequently in the SMS messages studied.

The frequent use of prepositions can be attributed to the role of SMS in coordination of events. Adverbs do not usually show up in the analysed messages due to the character limit, so the messages appear telegraphic in nature. Further analysis of a sample of words shows that women often used more verbs, adjectives and prepositions. In contrast, men tend to use more pronouns and nouns.

Part 2: Statistical details.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Confessions on Character Wasting.

Or Why I Felt Like A Hypocrite.

Shortly after I wrote about Artix Entertainment leaving their HeroSmash characters to rot while making new projects, I was reminded of one of my abandoned concepts that I had "discarded" out of embarrassment.

This character in question was Purpure, a pirate catgirl. When I first designed and roleplayed her in 2007, she was portrayed as a pushy and somewhat nymphomaniac illegitimate child. It wasn't who I was at all, and I had gotten to a bad start in Puzzle Pirates because of it.

In 2008, I had changed her concept slightly, and she supposedly went back to England to study as a governess and become a time-traveler. That was around the time I quit Puzzle Pirates for several years out of boredom.

Now, in 2014, I have gone back to playing Three Rings' flagship game due to my dissatisfaction with Artix Entertainment. I have seen that although Three Rings focuses on other projects like Spiral Knights and Whirled, they still pay attention to Puzzle Pirates and don't over-extend themselves to the point AE did. (AE expanded at a rate of one major game project a year as of this post.)

Another key difference between Three Rings' and Artix Entertainment's approach to being close to players is that the former participates actively in their own sites and games, while the latter prefer external social networks to playing their own games.

Three Rings hasn't left as many games to rot like AE did, the former might still conduct maintenance checks even if there are no major updates. Artix Entertainment? To hell with everything except AQWorlds, it seems.

As befitting a return to an old game, I revised Purpure's concept once more. She is no longer a nymphomaniac, but she's still be a British catgirl, a bastard child adopted by her kindly step-uncle, and a fairly successful governess among the pirates.

If I hadn't, and continued to ignore the potential an ex-pirate time-traveler has in my repertoire of characters, I'd be hypocritical for criticizing Artix's wastefulness and being wasteful myself.

Afterword: Seems that pirates don't really mind English governesses after all, even if they've got animal bits where human parts should be.

Purpure's looking quite lost. (Source)

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Angry Gran Racing iOS Review and Guide

The Angry Gran series is currently managed by AceViral, and was originally by Box10 Games. The Angry Gran is a nasty old lady who robs people of their money, but she has a change of heart in Angry Gran Racing, and has stopped hunting punks.

This game is available for iOS and Android, and was released in June 2014 (iOS version).

In Angry Gran Racing, you control the Angry Gran's driving by a pair of arrows at the bottom of the screen. The right arrow drives her forward, and the left arrow backwards. It's not smooth sailing, as the driving tracks are full of lumps and bumps.

Sofa car in action.
She has a variety of cars that can be unlocked, starting from her rickety old scooter to a fish delivery truck, a homemade sofa-car, a beach buggy, or a rocket-powered car.
Mrs. Fries has fallen over her fish.
Each car has three basic upgrades and one unique upgrade exclusive to the car. The basic upgrades and functions are as follows: -
Engine: Makes the car move faster.
Suspension: Reduces the speed lost when the car falls from a great height.
Tire grip: Allows the car to climb hills easily.

Time for an upgrade.
The unique upgrades will be described in-game, but they include increased fuel usage, bigger tires/better tire grip, or an easier time turning an upside down car the right way up.

At the start of a race, the game provides a selection of perks to use during the drive. They are a magnetic side car that attracts coins, extra petrol, and a crash helmet. The player can choose more than one perk to use at once provided the choices are made quickly.

Pick-ups are items that the Angry Gran can drive over. They come in two varieties: Cash and Powerups.

Coin - 10 or 50 gold.
Orange Monkey - 100 gold.
Green Dinosaur - 500 gold.
Purple Pinata - 1000 gold.

Bean can - Mrs. Fries will go faster for a few seconds. There's also a green gas from the car's rear.
2x coin - Money picked up will be doubled for a few seconds.
Petrol can - Refuels the car.
Icy petrol can -  Stops the fuel meter at the bottom of the screen from decreasing until the ice breaks off.

Mrs. Fries will also earn extra cash by doing stunts. These stunts include air time and wheelies. Performing air time or wheelies for at least one second will net you 25 points and 10 points respectively, and each following second adds another 25 or 10 points. Points in this game will be converted into gold at the end of a driving session, which ends by either knocking Mrs. Fries' head against the ground, or letting the car run out of fuel.

The game is not without its flaws. For one, the game often crashes randomly, and the amount of gold earned is not saved until the driving session ends.
If the app happens to crash halfway through a long race, you might as well say goodbye to the gold.

The starting curve is also steep as far as money is concerned. You will have to run several short races in a poorly equipped car to save up for the next upgrade or car model. This is rather time consuming.

The steep hills were tricky to maneuver as the player has to reverse the car and go forwards again to climb up, until a recent August update made them a little easier to climb those hills.

While the music of the game brings to mind classic cartoons like Looney Tunes, Tom and Jerry, or even Disney's shorts, I miss the hip-hop-rock theme of the original Angry Gran and Angry Gran Run.

In short, Angry Gran Racing is a passable game, but can get repetitive if you try to focus on it for a long time.

(All image sourced from iTunes or Google Play.)

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Sims 4 Creator Demo Review.

Earlier this month, Electronic Arts released the demo version of the Sims 4 character creator to the public. Only catch is that you can only download it through Origin and the latter will keep opening up when you play the demo. The demo is about 1 gigabyte when downloaded.

You start off the character creation process with a random sim, like in all the other Sims series. In this demo, your sims' ages are limited to young adults. You can randomize a sim by clicking on the dice at the bottom center of the screen, and undo or redo changes with the labeled arrows. The tick on the lower right lets you save the household.

Be warned, if you attempt to modify your own sims into someone else and save, the game will think the same "template" is in the library even if you renamed the household. Be sure to save as new if you don't want to lose your old sims.

Personality/age menu. (Click to enlarge.)
In the personality menu above, you can choose the voice, gender, traits, aspiration, and walk style. The hexagon chain contains the aspiration and traits of the sim. The hexagons with gold borders are related to the sim's aspiration.

A sim can only have 3 main traits, and their fourth trait is contained in the miniature hexagon with a gold border. This fourth trait is based on the sim's aspiration, ranging from being popular to a hated criminal, among other things.

The main traits can be chosen from emotional, hobby, lifestyle, and social traits. There are 38 different traits in total, and some of them clash with each other. The demo helpfully informs you which traits clash by graying out the opposite traits, provided you chose such a trait in the first place.

Hera cannot be active, nor ambitious (not pictured) as she is bone-lazy.

Unlike Sims 3, where you could make a mean but good character, Sims 4 doesn't allow you to make such a person, as choosing either trait cancels the other out. Should you want to go back and change the voice/gender/walk style of the sim, click on the plumbob/diamond close to the sim's name.

Lots of walks. Left to right: Feminine, Tough, Bouncy, Default, Snooty walks.
The variety of walks for sims here range from serious to comical parodies of slouches or divas. To change the body shape and clothes of the sim, click on their bodies. Two sliders indicate the muscularity and plumpness of the sim, and both can be extremely high, extremely low, or somewhere in between.

Parts that can be molded will glow when hovered over.
All parts of a sim's body can be molded independently of the muscle and fat sliders. There could be sims with giant hips, sims with large chests and no hips, or sims with any shape one desires. Sims have a large wardrobe, but in Sims 4, you can't make your own custom palette.

Separate menu for the head.
A sim's head is just as malleable as their body, so sims can all have different faces with a bit of effort. Alas, you can't give your sims custom eye or hair colors either. Whether that option will be restored in an expansion pack remains to be seen. At least there's a large variety of hairstyles this time without modding.

If you wish to add a new sim, you can choose "Play with Genetics" or the DNA icon in the lower left of the screen to create a sibling/twin of the sim. A twin will look more alike than a sibling will. Choosing the other option makes a completely new sim.

I found the almost text-less user interface a bit difficult to get used to, after the labeled interfaces of the other games. However, there are tooltips that will appear when your mouse cursor hovers over a choice in the menu, and the simple logos made it less confusing.

The ability to mold your sims' body led to some funny shapes for my sims. Someone who makes extremely disproportionate characters would like this.

I hope the full game is worth playing, but that will have to wait until September 2nd or shortly after.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Art Filler.

Because I have nothing particularly sardonic or serious to say this week, have a look at a portrait I made recently. Herakaris, a character of mine, is pulling a pose made famous by Rita Hayworth. Should be easy enough to find the original.

Herakaris, looking like Rita.

Click here for a larger version.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Artix Entertainment review, Part 5.0

Previous section: Click here.
First section: Click here.

5.0 Conclusion and Recommendations
AE should attempt to be less informal in their interactions, as this gives the impression that they are weak and incapable of laying down the law. The staff should also consider running proper background checks on their staff members to ensure that none of them will sour the reputation of AE.

Some of the staff members have been hired based on their talent alone, but lack the people skills required to communicate properly with consumers. Fortunately, not all the volunteers who are hired by AE will tarnish the company's reputation.

The company should also avoid using outdated techniques to attract players, such as forcing female players into revealing armour or making all female characters wear barely anything. This is because the revealing armour technique is used so often by almost all game companies that AE will not be unique if they do this. Instead, AE will look like a company that blindly follows trends, instead of one capable of innovation.

AE must consider the fact that focusing on a character's appearance is not good enough for character development. Especially not when the aforementioned physical appearance is nothing more than fanservice and previous events in the story do not agree with the new look.

The company should pay more attention to their other games, instead of just focusing on AQWorlds and its celebrity events, which the author will refer to as BroadwayQuest from now on until the situation changes. However, things may change as AE isn't letting a potential online Friday 13th concert distract them from completing the Chaos story, for once.

Because AE's resources will run out one day, the company should consider putting their expansion plans on hold until all the games are completely stable or they manage to hire enough people to keep all of their games online.

If you would like to read further commentary that isn't added here, check the following links:
"Are players solely to blame for abandonment?"
The Great Subscription Unplug. (AE Version)

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Artix Entertainment review, Part 4.2

Previous section: Click here.
First section: Click here.

Still not safe for work due to images of Gravelyn later in the post. Nothing explicit, regardless.

4.2 Fanservice in Other AE Games
While there are plenty of other characters at Artix Entertainment who are designed with fanservice in mind, they are relatively tame compared to AQWorlds' formerly mandatory skimpy clothes. One other example of a major NPC's fanservice in AE's MMORPGs that is not too explicit is Demolicious from Herosmash. She is an “alternative” girl with an unusual attire of a dark purple leotard, tall boots, and an executioner's mask. Her attire stands out because she is one of only two of the female NPCs to wear leotards, and one out of three who dresses relatively skimpily.

Demolicious in HeroSmash
Electina, the other leotard-wearer

Hottica in a small robe

It is not how much skin a woman or girl has to show to make an impression, but how the character is presented. Demolicious' impression on viewers may include “superhuman,” “dominatrix,” and “executioner,” words associated with power. Electina might give off the impression of a gymnast or a storm-bringer, and Hottica a fire-brand. Being "sexy" would be secondary, due to the art style and the rare appearance of skimpy clothes in HeroSmash.

In HeroSmash, Demolicious is a heroine who prefers to be a lone ranger, and she verbally abuses the player. The tables are turned when she is captured and mocked by her worst enemy, Luigi daVinci. She breaks down and lowers her head in shame when Luigi criticises her for wanting to sell a valuable artifact they were fighting over. Demolicious is finally revealed to be a filial daughter, as she wanted to sell the artifact to pay for her father's medical treatment. From this, viewers gather that she is overemotional and loving, despite acting tough.

Gravelyn, in contrast, is viewed as little more than a fantasy for young men in the audience, partly because portrayals of her before or after her makeover do not show her doing much for her dead father's legacy. There are few portrayals of Gravelyn being emotional, compared to the plentiful showcasing of her new assets, both ingame and outside the game.

Diozz's original makeover of Grave
Diozz's later Grave sketch, for an artbook

It is quite sad that villains are fawned over, to the point that their physical assets are the sole important feature; while heroes are overlooked, fanservice or no. This echoes the cynical sentiment that looks are the only worth a woman has.

My personal opinion on fanservice is that one should not forget everything established in the story in favor of giving a character a new look. I doubt that Gravelyn would have changed into a tube top and commando loin cloth, if it hadn't been for Diozz's redesign of her, mostly because she was forced to expose herself to Noxus (a necromancer lich) when HE took over her kingdom for a while. As AQWorlds formerly had compulsory revealing clothes, Gravelyn's makeover makes her look generic and more like a bland imitation of Jessica Rabbit.

While it is possible to have a character who wears revealing clothes, it would be stale, cliche, and boring to have every single character do so unless there is a justifiable reason, and not just one gender is forced into it. HeroSmash stands out among other superhuman media due to its relatively rare and optional revealing outfits, unlike what may be see in mass media adaptations in the likes of Marvel or DC tales.

Next section: A conclusion and recommendations, for now.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Artix Entertainment review, Extra 1.1

Previous Extra: Click here.

On the HeroSmash Subscription Unplug.

The decision to cancel memberships or subscriptions to the online game HeroSmash was very abrupt and rushed, in my opinion. This is because the announcement was made after the fact, without giving players any notice.

There was absolutely no warning that memberships would be canceled before the act was carried out on the 7th of July 2014. The announcement that is linked was posted on 9th July.

While subscribers and former subscribers have been given compensation by having 50 years worth of membership and extra secondary currency depending on how much time subscribers have purchased, this brings to mind similar decisions made by some big name companies before closing down their games for good. One example is the Walt Disney games, as explained below.

Walt Disney Games
According to Wikipedia, Disney hosted various games over the years, including Toontown Online and Pirates of the Caribbean Online. Both of these games have been closed in 2013 in favor of expanding on Club Penguin, which was originally an independent project that got bought up by Disney.

When Toontown Online was canceled, every player was made a subscriber, and one could no longer buy subscriptions nor create new accounts. Fans were understandably upset.

For "Pirates of the Caribbean Online," all members were given unlimited subscription a month before the game closed, and received double gold and plunder when playing.

Sony Online Entertainment
Another company that compensated its players before closing down their games. As of current writing, Wizardy Online players will receive a full subscription that allows them to access Sony's other games that require a subscription.

Electronic Arts
Unlike the companies mentioned above, Electronic Arts did not compensate players before closing their online games. For Sims Social, players were merely advised to use up their ingame currencies before the game ended, and no benefits were given. Before that, Electronic Arts had ignored most of the bug reports for Sims Social. After the game closed, the related forums were shut down as well, along with Playfish, the "publisher."

This set of decisions upset fans even more.

The only company that still thrives on a mostly-subscription model seems to be Jagex with their Runescape property. The reason why will be examined in a later blog post.

In short, offering compensation to players in games is a decision not usually taken by game companies, be they large or small ones. Although HeroSmash has not quite done away with their secondary currency, the decision to stop offering subscriptions may shake any confidence that anyone had in the game as it is a case of deja vu for most gamers. This coming from an ex-subscriber of HeroSmash.

P.S. Watch this blog for another post on why The Sims never succeeded as an online property, and an opinion on whether the age of browser/lightweight-download games with subscriptions is over.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Artix Entertainment review, Part 4.0 (NSFW)

Previous section: Click here.
First section: Click here.

Disclaimer: This post (and the next) might not be safe for work. Nothing explicit in the images or links, though.

4.0 Fanservice and Its Overuse in AE
This section describes fanservice as used in two Artix Entertainment Games, AQWorlds and OverSoul. Fanservice refers to content that is added to please fans. This includes random musicals to pander to audience members that would like a Broadway  experience. In common parlance however, it refers to erotic content such as skimpy clothing or suggestive scenes, regardless of whether it is appropriate for the situation or character in question.

4.1 “Sacrifice personality for looks? Sure.”
AQWorlds has been a vehicle for fanservice since its creation in 2008. The main reason is because the former lead artist, Miltonius a.k.a. Nulgath, had made an explicit web series before being hired by AE. His style of drawing young women as very young girls with large breasts and no hips was accepted at first, along with his revealing designs.

2008 male Mage.
2008 female Mage.

Where men had full coverage in their armors from neck to knees, women had to make do with skirts that exposed their legs, leotards that emphasized their lordosis and too-childish-physiques, and contend with drag-queen makeup. It wasn't until several players protested the portrayal of women in the game that AE finally decided to do something about it. For a few years after 2010, armors were less skimpy compared to the previous standards set by the game.

Although AQWorlds has been slightly better at armor coverage in recent years, Nulgath chose to continue his drag-queen look in OverSoul, believing that the game's mature rating would allow him to indulge in distorted fantasies. Examples include a Light Fairy and a tutor NPC. Below is a typical face with Nulgath as the makeup artist:

Too much: a) eyebrow penciling, b) dark lip liner, c) eyeshadow, d) mascara.
The first change in AQWorlds' attitude towards fanservice after 2010 comes in the form of Gravelyn's makeover by Diozz, a recently hired artist as of this post. Gravelyn is a major character in the game, being the new leader of the Shadowscythe and holding opposing views to Alteon, the king of Swordhaven. Her makeover reduced her armor from a long-sleeved bodysuit with armor plates and thigh high boots to an armored tube top, a loincloth (possibly without undergarments), and plenty of exposed flesh for the weakest of reasons.

Casual Grave
"Do we really have to remove this much?"

The game claims that Gravelyn currently dresses like a club dancer in order to appear weak, but this simply looks like AE forgot that female villains do not necessarily have to dress like strip dancers in order to be strong or attractive, nor to put on an act. Even Diozz's explanation that Gravelyn's armor can transform into a full bodysuit in combat appears to be a last minute excuse. Under the assumption that neither version of the new armor provides a padded layer to cushion the metal, Gravelyn would be feeling pinched in a number of places!

There was also a time in the Doomwood storyline when Noxus made sexually-charged advances towards Gravelyn, reaching its peak when he forced her to wear an outfit that directly referenced Leia's slave outfit.

Other AQWorlds non-player characters (NPCs) have been revamped, but none to the borderline explicit appearance of Gravelyn. The so-called justification that Gravelyn grew up still looks like a double standard where women have to be sexually enticing and bare a lot to be attractive, especially for female villains.

Next section: Fanservice in another AE game.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Artix Entertainment review, Extra 1.0

Note: Extras in a review series means more commentary than what I initially planned to write about. This is a rebuttal towards Cysero's justification on why HeroSmash and AE's other games were abandoned, as well as what little contact I made with him on Twitter.

A commentary on "Abandonware" Entertainment.

I had the opportunity to interact briefly with Cysero on Twitter yesterday. When he said that a new project was too ambitious for Artix Entertainment at the moment, I asked him if he wanted to go back and revise old projects.

His reply? "Hardly. Time to conceive of smaller, less ambitious and lengthy projects and keep moving forward."

Well, this implies that you're ignoring your older works, no? Even if you claim MechQuest is finished and "beta" is just a word when it comes to phases of development. It's known that AE's planning is notoriously fast and loose, to put it mildly. Might be why AQWorlds took 6 years to finish its major storyline.

Original AQ took about 2 years to finish the Carnax Saga, a major storyline I played through from 2005 to 2006. The Devourer story continued shortly after, "ending" in 2007. Then again, the company back then didn't see the need to insert celebrity sequences like Disney's musicals.

Cysero also claims that AE's mistake is to remain on the web and not go mobile. I suppose if you can make completed projects that don't need frequent updates like Battlegems, you can go mobile. But you want a commitment of weekly releases for your browser games at the same time. Can you have your cake and eat it too?

Now, for some choice quotes from the Design Notes post itself:

"Let's say that you have a boat. The boat has a hole. If the boat takes on water faster than you can bail it out... you have to swim away or drown. A game gets the attention that it can afford. The more popular the game, the more development it gets. If a game gets no support from the players... the game bleeds out and development stops."

Avalina: Interesting analogy. Go on.

"The raging torrent of players that we started with became a river, then a stream, then a creek, then a trickle. The game was in freefall and no matter what we did, the game couldn't make enough to support the team. We can't keep a team of 15 working on a game that isn't bringing in any money to support the company so slowly the size of the team was reduced, smaller and smaller until now only Randor and a few volunteers are there to keep the lights on for the VERY small number of players who play HeroSmash (and even smaller number who pay to support it). There are days when the game makes nothing at all. Even a roadside tomato stall makes more than that.

People accuse AE of giving up on HeroSmash (and a few games in similar situations), but the truth of the matter is that the players left us no choice. We stuck around and tried to keep people interested in HeroSmash LONG after we reasonably should have but you can't keep that up forever."

Avalina: Err, because you hadn't drafted a storyline contingency plan for what happens if say, the villains win every single war? Instead focusing on AQWorlds and its celeb events?
Besides, responsibility goes both ways (player AND admin). You didn't promote your other games as much as AQWorlds. I doubt you can disclose how much revenue BroadwayQuest makes, but would it be enough to support the abandonware's revival if you ever get around to it?

"All that said, the older and less popular games AREN'T GOING ANYWHERE! Artix has promised that the games would stay open for as long as possible and he means to keep that promise. Even if development has stopped on a game it will remain open until we can literally no longer afford to run the servers, even if it means keeping them going at a slight loss."

Avalina: Finally, a redeeming point. Your company hasn't gone entirely money-minded like the big names, who would have shut down their "failures" as soon as it proved to be too much work.

"I'm going to say this again. I'm GLAD that all of our games have a free option so that people can have fun in them when they can't afford to support it. BUT, if you like one of our games and you want to see it prosper and grow then get your friends to play. If the game's continuation is a priority for you then support it if you can. Don't just complain that the updates have stopped when it is within YOUR power to change that."

Avalina: Cysero, Cysero, Cysero, the staff can also help out by promoting the abandonware more often. Players alone would be but a small margin when your abandonware isn't even polished enough for even gaming celebs to take a look! I doubt  Markiplier or Pewdiepie would review abandonware that hasn't got a refined gameplay, nor an unfinished story where the developers have no intention of bringing the game out to show.

Even if we can somehow attract outsiders to play your abandonware, they will probably leave while saying "Why should we bother with a project the admins clearly can't be bothered to update?"

In conclusion, I believe that AE staff should at least recycle their characters if they're not interested in restarting their abandonware. It's a waste to let original characters rot just because you're focusing on new projects. After all, how many people know who Demolicious and Luigi daVinci are? Their rivalry in HeroSmash could be extended to an idea like a puzzle game or a runner a la Angry Gran Run or "Nun Attack: Run and Gun."

But I'll let AE decide what type of game they could reuse the HeroSmash characters in. I hope that the forgotten characters are given a chance to shine again.

January 2015 edit: My suspicions about BroadwayQuest making just enough to support the other games has been proven in this particular dev post.

I asked in the comments:
Well, I can see where you're coming from, but I have one more question: Does what AQWorlds make ALSO support your other games, being the biggest celeb portal besides being a game too? Just a yes or no will suffice.
 Cysero replied:
 Yes. A few of the games don't make enough to support themselves and the money to supplement them has to come from somewhere so it's an additional strain on AQW.
We'll see if the company once harbored any intentions to save their characters if I get another question answered.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Artix Entertainment review, Part 3.4

Previous section: Click here.
First section: Click here.

Follow the links in the article to learn more about other game companies' celeb endorsements. (Caution: May contain spoilers.)

3.4 Non-AE examples of celebrity endorsement
Celebrity endorsement, especially by singers, is uncommon outside of the genre of musical games. One other famous example of celeb endorsement for a non-musical game is Katy Perry's 2012 promotion of Electronic Arts' The Sims 3: Showtime. Unlike Artix Entertainment's usage of heavy metal and Gothic stars in a medieval game, Katy Perry's pop-music promotion for Electronic Arts is thematically appropriate, as the Sims 3 expansion pack is about making superstars out of the modern-day Sims.

On the subject of Sims, the much older “The Sims: Superstar” also has celebrity likenesses ranging from Avril Lavigne, Marilyn Monroe, to Jon Bon Jovi. Unlike the Katy Perry example, the older Sims game did not make such a big deal about the celebrities appearing in it. From the title alone, real-world celebrities making an appearance in “The Sims: Superstar” still makes sense as the Sims are still in the present day or a time when the celebrity culture became global.

Famous people are also randomly inserted in the Sims 4 trailers. Barack Obama and Kim Jong-Un (both being leaders of countries) have been made into Sims for not much reason other than the potential comedy.

Other companies have taken the approach of including superstars in technical roles for their games. Bethesda chose to hire Liam Neeson (a voice and film actor) to play the role of the Lone Wanderer's father in Fallout 3; and hired other famous voice actors such as Charles Martinet (voice actor of Nintendo's Mario and Luigi) to act in The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. This allows the stars to build up their resume and the star factor to be expressed in a subtle way.

Tara Strong, famous for voicing cartoon characters like Teen Titans' Raven and My Little Pony's Twilight Sparkle, has dabbled in video game acting as well. She voiced Juliet Starling in the American release of Lollipop Chainsaw, Grasshopper Manufacture's pop-culture-laden yet violent take on the zombie slayer genre.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Artix Entertainment review, Part 3.3

Previous sections (3.1 and 3.2): Click here.
First section: Click here.

3.3 Statistical Summary
For those who want a summary of how many guest celebrity events occurred in AQWorlds, there is a list below. This counter includes events where a particular celebrity outside AE is the main character/focus or has a major ingame appearance without actually performing, e.g. as a non-player character. There are other celebrities (e.g. Andrew Huang) present in some of the events, but they do not get the spotlight focused on them for the entire event. Events that commemorate an important real life event (e.g. AE workers' weddings) will not be counted, but noted anyway.

The current total of celebrity events and years present:
Voltaire Hernandez: 8 (2009-2013). 1 minor appearance as Artix's wedding guest, without performing.
One Eyed Doll: 3 (2009, 2010, 2012). 1 extra with Voltaire and George Lowe.
George Lowe (A television narrator): 1 (2010).
ArcAttack: 1 (2011).
Mia J. Park: 2 (2012-2013).
Ctrl Alt Del (Webcomic crossover): 1 (2011).
They Might Be Giants: 1 (2011).
Paul and Storm: 1 (2010). Same time as Jonathan Coulton.
Jonathan Coulton: 1 (2010). Same time as Paul and Storm.
Ayi Jihu: 1 (2011). Never mentioned or hired again by AE afterwards.

Total number of celebrity events from 2009 to 2013: 18.
Number of celebrity events by year:
2009: 3
2010: 3
2011: 5
2012: 5
2013: 2
Year(s) with the most celebrity guest events: 2011, 2012.

These events take up to a month on average as AQWorlds always sells virtual merchandise and wants as many players as possible to join in on the event. If the events' proportions are calculated by the total number of months, this calculation happens:
Months in 2009 to 2013 = 5*12 = 60
Months occupied by celebrities = 18
Percentage of time occupied by celebs = (18/60) * 100% = 30%

It may not seem like much for five years, but when it is broken down by individual years, this is the result:
Celebrities in 2009 = (3/12) * 100% = 25%
Celebrities in 2010 = (3/12) * 100% = 25%
Celebrities in 2011 = (5/12) * 100% = 41.67%
Celebrities in 2012 = (5/12) * 100% = 41.67%
Celebrities in 2013 = (2/12) * 100% = 16.67%
(Assumption: 1 celeb event is 1/12 of a year, a.k.a. A month.)

Coincidentally, HeroSmash was abandoned and its servers repurposed in 2011 (as the staff quotes below will show), joining the lineup of games to be neglected by AE, having no major storyline or gameplay updates since then. OverSoul joined the neglected lineup in late 2013, and its only updates as of this post are adding new characters for collection. A focus on AQWorlds was a factor in these games getting neglected.

A quote from Artix about adding servers to AQWorlds for one of the celebrity events:
Special Birthday Event This Friday
Join us for our special event with special musical guest band, They Might Be Giants! We are going to add some servers, raise the level cap, and have the biggest special event in the history of the game.

This is a quote from Beleen justifying the removal of some of the HeroSmash servers:
One more thing…!
A bunch of you have been wondering where the other servers have disappeared to. Well, seeing as to how the GIANT AdventureQuest Worlds event with musical guests They Might Be Giants releases tomorrow night, HeroSmash donated a few of its severs to help AQWorlds out!
Because sharing is SUPER! And we know super =p
Happy PumpCON everyone! Smash on

Of course, neither of them wanted to alarm players by stating that AQWorlds would not return the servers. It is only in hindsight that the real purpose of the server transfers is clear. Artix Entertainment seems to have given up on attracting players to their superhero game.

But I digress, and it is time to return to AQWorlds statistics.

This is the percentage of Gothic celeb events (Voltaire and One Eyed Doll) compared to non-Gothic ones between 2009 and 2013:
Total events = 18
Goth events = (11/18) * 100 = 61.11%
Non-Goth events = (7/18) * 100 = 38.89%
More than half of the events in AQWorlds involve Gothic celebrities, dissonant with the initially non-Gothic atmosphere of AQWorlds. AQWorlds is no Tim Burton production, and not influenced by his works either.

Surprisingly enough, on June 13 2014, AE decided that a Voltaire performance would distract from the ending of the Chaos storyline that was already planned. Hopefully this improved level of organization will be applied to the other neglected games. These quotes from the AQWorlds design notes should give you an idea why they decided not to shoehorn a musical event in.

According to Alina on June 10th, 2014:
Normally (as if THAT happens in AQW!!!), Friday the 13th brings a huge (horribly unlucky) event with musical guest star, Voltaire. But if you've read the info above, you know that we've already got more bad juju than we can handle! So while he jets off to parts unknown for another recording session, WE are going to keep things moving in a chaotic direction with the World War Lore event and a limited time shop!

We DO have an idea for an event with Voltaire later this year, but we should talk to HIM first before we give you any details!

Monday, 16 June 2014

Artix Entertainment review, Part 3.0

Previous section: Click here.
First part of the series: Click here.

June 2015 update: Click here. Poll included.

3.0 Celebrity Over-Endorsement
This section describes a problem that Artix Entertainment has run into in the last few years, the overuse of celebrities to promote only one game while neglecting almost all of their other works. It will also describe a few other examples of celebrities being used to promote video games.

Celebrity endorsement is the use of a superstar's fame to sell or advertise a product. The reasoning is that a recognizable star will have an easier time promoting a product to users compared to a publicity agent that has not yet worked their way into mass media. While celebrity endorsement can make a brand more famous, done wrongly, the celebrity in question appears to be inserted for the sake of star factor.

3.1 Neglecting other works
It is easy to make the assumption that Artix Entertainment's main game is AQWorlds, due to the huge amount of promotion that is included. However, it has gotten to the point that AE's other games appear to be forgotten. With the sole exception of Original AdventureQuest, the other games suffer from a lack of staff, a lack of updates, and a lack of guidance. The clearest example would be HeroSmash, which has not had any major storyline updates since late 2011.

MechQuest, DragonFable, and OverSoul are neglected to varying degrees as well. AE simply isn't large enough to conduct a virtual Broadway stage and keep its other games alive at the same time.

3.2 Schedule slips and quality interference
Celebrity events in AQWorlds have been quite frequent from 2010 to 2013. This is partly due to the informal contract that Voltaire Hernandez will hold a virtual performance every Friday the 13th. The celebrity events are often given plenty of fanfare via design notes, Twitter, and forum posts, and shoehorned into the game regardless of whether the event fits into the established canon of AQWorlds. The other AE games have only one or two celebrity cameos in minor roles.

Drakath, Chaos Champion
Discordia and Kimberly, Mythsong Lords

The first One Eyed Doll event was contrived in such a way that the lead singer, Kimberly Freeman, was the actual Chaos Lord (a minor villain serving Drakath, the main villain) of Mythsong (a musical land). The justification was that Drakath hypnotized Kimberly, and she hypnotized the Chaos Lord Discordia in turn. This sounds ridiculous to an outside viewer because Drakath and Discordia are fictional, but breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience directly is fairly common in AE games, regardless of superstars' involvement.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Artix Entertainment review, Part 2.3

Previous section: Click here.
Introduction to this series: Click here.

2.3 Problem-solving
To deal with rowdy players in AdventureQuest Worlds, the staff have enforced their rules. Players who are found to be behaving badly are warned or even banned from the game. Hackers are punished as well. The most recent method of punishing hackers taken by AE was to remove all the items from a hacker's account and replace them with an unkind note, as well as all achievements gained by the hacker. This measure was taken in order to discourage players from cheating in AdventureQuest Worlds. This is in line with the Art of War's recommendation to use discipline while training one's troops.

In response to the dissatisfied subscribers of AdventureQuest Worlds, AE has been offering more subscriber benefits to players who have subscriptions of at least three months or more. For players who have fifteen months' worth of subscriptions, a new ingame class is offered to them. AE has also linked the subscriptions of AdventureQuest Worlds and HeroSmash so that players only need to pay for one subscription in either game.

Short post today. The next one will be on a unique problem this company has encountered over the course of hosting AQWorlds.

Next section: Click here.

Artix Entertainment review, Part 2.2

Previous section: Click here.
Introduction to this article series: Click here.

This is Part 2.2 of my Artix Entertainment review. For new readers, this is a list of problems that I have observed AE encounter. The general problems of being a video game company, that is.

2.2 Problems
One of the main problems faced by AE is customer dissatisfaction, especially in AdventureQuest Worlds. Some subscribers expressed concern about the value of ingame subscriptions compared to that of microtransactions. Players have also expressed their disapproval of AdventureQuests Worlds' over-reliance on microtransactions, as the in-game equipment sold through said microtransactions is functionally similar to other in-game equipment.

The players of AdventureQuest Worlds have also expressed dissatisfaction with the quality of the story and the actions of Cysero, the current head of the game. A common complaint about Cysero is that he manages AdventureQuest Worlds only to gain more profit at the expense of player satisfaction.

Another problem in AE is the lack of proper communication among the staff. In theory, each game has a team assigned to that particular game alone. This is because each game has its own technical requirements as well as game lore to maintain. However, due to communication breakdown between the top-level management and other staff, team members from older games may be assigned to newer ones, sometimes until the point where the older games suffer in performance.

AE also has to compete with other game companies such as Jagex, Blizzard and Electronic Arts. AE usually is capable of coming up with unusual and unconventional ideas, but occasionally, they slip back into old tricks that barely work. For example, AdventureQuest Worlds initially forced all its female players to wear revealing armour, but the policy changed after a group of players protested constantly for nearly two years. This was because compulsory revealing armour on female characters was used by practically all gaming companies except Jagex's RuneScape. The CEO of AE had this to say about the former revealing armour policy:

If there is one thing I have learned in the past few years, is how important it is to listen when someone feels strongly about something. I think some people would get defensive, but it is my belief that if someone does not like something and tells you it is a good thing. This is because it means they care... and when people care about something, you know there is an opportunity to make it amazing. Because it is against our policy to take away items that we have given to the players (and they are using) the agreement that the team made was to create a large number of conservative armors and classes for female players. After the PTR is stabilized we will do this in a number of shops and releases. (A. Krieger, personal communication, April 22, 2010)

The discipline of AdventureQuest Worlds players has deteriorated since 2010, as many of the players use foul language and behave unkindly to other players, despite all AE games forbidding griefing. Hackers have also become more rampant in AdventureQuest Worlds. As a result, the game has negative publicity among the online community. It should be noted that griefers are common in many online games, as the internet allows users to engage in bad behaviour.

AE's sixth game, HeroSmash, was originally going to be called SuperHero Quest, but AE received a cease-and-desist letter from DC Comics and Marvel, two comic book mega-corporations, stating that AE was not allowed to use SuperHero as the two companies had a trademark on the phrase. AE then renamed SuperHero Quest to HeroSmash, although the CEO did not want to give up. However, AE had no choice because DC Comics and Marvel were much larger than them.

Business rivals stealing ideas is a problem in any line of work. AE does not usually reveal a lot about their new games until the new game is almost ready for testing or release, in order to prevent business rivals from knowing their ideas. The practice of hosting virtual concerts in games was also pioneered by AE in March 2009, as it was not a conventional way to gain publicity for game companies at the time. In fact, virtual concerts in MMORPGs were unheard of until AE first held one for Voltaire, a well-known singer in the alternative Gothic scene. Other stars and singers have been invited to hold virtual concerts and shows in AdventureQuest Worlds, such as One-Eyed Doll, They Might Be Giants, Jonathan Coulton, Ayi Jihu and George Lowe.

Next section: Problem solving.