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Champions Online's Cake + Eat

Posted by Ozzallos Wednesday January 12 2011 at 8:21PM
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Champions Online. Depending on who you talk to about this game, it's either passably fun or quite possibly one of the most reviled MMO franchises currently walking the street. The latter is mainly due to its association with City of Heroes. When Jack Emmert walked away from CoH with the publishing rights in hand, he alienated a large chunk of his established user base; essentially telling everybody involved in City of Heroes to suck it as he took the intellectual property and set up Champions.

The decision was undoubtedly a calculated one, since there could only be one goal in directly competing with his old associates by launching a newer, fresher looking product in the exact same style and genre. It was also goal that ironically never came to fruition. Fan resentment and betrayal over his defection kept the City of Heroes user base loyal and intact, denying Emmert of not only new users jumping ship from CoH, but the critical mass necessary to starve out his competition. Even worse, City of Heroes has thrived against all odds; at least enough to warrant an expansion and continued operation under a subscription model.

If that wasn't salt in the proverbial wound, Champion's problems are about to get a lot worse.

DC Universe Online is about to roll, and even at its worst (See the Hater's Guide) it still does enough right to turn the hero genre on its ear. The audio is a ten. The visuals, ten. Story? Ten. Sure, its game play is little more than arcade button mashing, but even that has an audience; an audience that is going to cut directly into Champion's user base in a big way. If a gamer has to decide which hero MMO their subscription dollar is going to go to, my bet is that Champions is going to have to bend over and pass the KY, please.

I’ll go out on a limb at this point and say that the only reason a lot of us have been playing these current games is in waiting for somebody else to do it right. DCUO is the next step in that evolution, and everybody knows it. You know it. I know it. Apparently, Cryptic knows it, too.

Most of us just received an email the other day confirming the rumblings:
Champions Online is gearing up for free to play, though that’s literally only half the story. The other half is that they’re also retaining the subscription model as well, effectively creating a hybrid payment model. Both sides function exactly as you would expect them to: Champions Complete and Champions Crippled, enticing you to either buy into the micro transactional payment model or pony up for the subscription. On the surface, it would appear to be a smart move-- let the player decide what they want and let demand take it from there. If you happen to pick up a few extra dollars along the way, score.

Peel back the surface and you may smell desperation.

There is one universal constant in MMO gaming everybody needs to realize: You only go F2P unless you have no other choice. As a corollary, people will pay monthly subscriptions if you have a product worth paying for.

To point, if a company has a choice between subscriptions and micro transactions, which do you think they would choose? Guaranteed income, or ‘maybe you’ll stop in this month and buy something’ income? The answer should be obvious, which should also prompt the question: Why is Cryptic even bothering? Sure, they could be looking to rake in the money stream, but I’m thinking Champions is working the marketing angles overtime.

As noted above, they still have active, thriving competition in the City of Heroes franchise that hasn’t been reduced to F2P (hint). Now there’s a new threat and it isn’t just a two ton gorilla, it’s a goddamn Boeing 747 with its engines on fire looking for a place to land, and that place is going to be squarely in the lap of any hero MMO that gets in its way.

Traditionally, I’ve always seen the move to F2P as a last, desperate gambit to stay alive, even if in a diminished capacity. This particular tactic is a new one. It still reeks of disease, but it’s also supremely devious from a marketing standpoint. Not only can they claim user choice as a reason, but when things do go south in the subscription department (and mark my words, they will), you’ll never know it. They don’t have to report their numbers. They don’t have to tell you how many subs died off over the last six months because DCUO just took huge ass bite out of their market share. Subscriptions will quietly fade off into the night and if they acknowledge it at all, they can claim it was all according to plan or that it was gamer demand. Champions now has complete deniability that they're suffering finacially and automatically bypasses any stigma attatched to dropping subscriptions cold turkey.

Fucking brilliant.

Cryptic, you’ve officially earned my Evil Genius in Marketing Award for 2011, and it’s only January.

**Correction: Bill Roper incorrectedly cited, as noted by LordDraekon. Jack Emmert was intended.

TRON Legacy - Wasting My Money So You Don't Have To

Posted by Ozzallos Tuesday January 4 2011 at 6:35PM
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Wasting My Money So You Don't Have To: TRON Legacy


Tron. Now that's a hallowed word, my friend. It's a word that almost belongs in the bedrock of scifi itself; revolutionary in a day when the internet was still a Department of Defense managed entity unknown to the masses of the world. It was an imagined landscape of digital reality when few such templates actually existed and technology could barely keep up with the demands of Hollywood.

Taken in 20/20 hindsight, the movie seems almost corny in retrospect, but only because its screenwriters were producing a movie on the very frontiers of fiction along side other classics such as Blade Runner with no idea of what the future held two decades hence. The acting dialog adapted to describe TRON's digital world seems hokey today and the plot itself is quintessential of Disney's wholesome work in the 80s. When coupled with the the admittedly bland CG and compared to movies like Avatar, TRON arguably hasn't exactly aged gracefully.

And even so, it's a classic; the yardstick by which to compare its sequel: TRON Legacy.

Well, ladies and gents, I'm here to tell you there is no comparison. Realistically, this should have been a slam dunk-- Tron Legacy had an entire world to build upon and the CG to back it up. The premise was actually an interesting one: Son and disillusioned corporate heir Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) finds out that not only is there the possibility that his MIA father Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is alive, but trapped inside the very virtual world he helped to create. Sam is drawn into the world of TRON during his investigation and cue plot.

Yes, this should have been an easy execution given the material at Disney's fingertips, but reality tends to take days off when Hollywood dollars are concerned. Where the original was the ground breaking in it's interpretation of a digital universe, Tron Legacy is merely content to ride on the heels of the other Hollywood products around it while paying only a passing nod to the source. Sure, there's the wholesale plot dump that details what happened in the intervening years that it took Flynn's kid to grow up, but there is little beyond that. Instead the movie defers to other films, notably The Matrix and Blade Runner to keep it moving. You don't get to see recognizers stomp Tron tanks. Light cycles make their appearance for exactly one scene, and gone are the 90' degree movements they make, companion bits, and other notable landmarks that one would expect to see more- or more of -in a sequel twenty years in the waiting.

First, let's get this out of the way... The movie is pretty and today's modern CG is put to use. The soundtrack courtesy of Daft Punk is likewise epic and in keeping with the digital mood. When the movie decides to pay attention to an element of vintage TRON cinema, it usually does a competent job at it. I was also surprised, finding myself liking the interaction between Sam and his father. Both played their two decade estrangement perfectly. Even CLU (also digitally de-aged Jeff Bridges) made for an acceptable- if fairly generic -villain.

In short, there are things to like about this movie. It's just too bade it's mired in an equal if not greater amount of Hollywood 'me-too!' kludge.

The first thing the aspiring ticket holder is likely to notice is that the world of Tron is dark. Very dark. Unnecessarily dark, though one can chalk that up to stylistic preference if they so chose. The problem with that dark is that it was purposely forced into the mood of the movie as well, tainting everything from the action to irrelevant debauchery of the cantina scene where one has to ask... Why? Why are these programs fornicating, drinking and even dancing as if they walked into a bar from blade runner or were dancing the rave in the middle of Zion? Why is The Riddler from Batman lore a goddamn go-to person in said bar? Viewers of the original will remember that TRON is none of this, nor does the plot bother to explain how this well-spring of hedonistic behavior came into being... And isn't that what the ISO beings were supposed to represent before their extermination anyway?

Okay, I'd chalk this up to nit-picking if it were the only plot fail involved, but speaking of ISO's, apparently a life or death battle to get the old man out alive wasn't enough. Producers felt it necessary to shoehorn in a contrived story about new digital life forms, a love interest w/said life form and potential for world wide digital invasion led by CLU into the plot along side the death of Kevin Flynn. Oh yeah, not just an invasion of networks world wide, but a real life invasion consisting of thousands of digital soldiers that will some how come out the other end of Flynn's digital lazer as real people to try and take over the world, Pinky.

Okay, so I can take the data disks becoming Frisbee rings. I can take magic wands that will become anything you ask them to be, up to and including virtual jet aircraft (and hey, didn't the disks do that in the last movie?) "Mister Potter! This wand is 10 1/2 firm, made of torrent source code and megahertz. Give it a good flick now."

I'm sorry, though. I have to draw the line at Eric Flynn's sudden 70s hipster flash backs; as if that was actually his character in the original movie. It hurts. It hurts A LOT to see the source material butchered in this manner. Even the original vinatage costumes were more detailed than the black wetsuits they wore in this movie, as if the producers couldn't be bothered to instill a modicum of quality into their creation. There's emo black styling and then there's lazy. Legacy is frimly in the latter.

Tron Legacy is a movie that would benefit from not only a healthy amount of moderation, but staying true to its roots. In the end, it's a watchable rental that is content to fall lockstep in with the more modern (and better) cinema. Sadly, that cinema is less the movie that spawned the franchise. Honestly, you'd be better off picking up a copy of the game Tron 2.0: Killer App for a more authentic rendering of the franchise, and better sequel material to boot.

Verdict: Redbox it.