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  Player-Created Sport Emerges From ‘City of Villains’  
Posted 2006-12-11 by Tony Walsh
Player-Created Sport Emerges From ‘City of Villains’
A Repel Ball referee in action.
A group of gamers who play the massively-multiplayer superhero game City of Villains (CoV) has come up with an innovative sport, dubbed Repel Ball. The new, soccer-like pastime is built atop of the standard CoV, using a player-designed in-game facility as the field. The ball is a low-level minion, which is blasted around the playing field by characters wielding Repel-based powers (view a video of play). The object of the game, according to a post on the official CoV discussion-boards, is to get the ball into the opposing team's goal. Each match has a player-controlled referee who observes and adjudicates play.

As an expansion to the City of Heroes MMO launched in 2004, standard City of Villains game play (rolled out in 2005) is perhaps losing its appeal to veteran players. Once you've run a character or two up to level 50, as I understand it, there just isn't much to do--even with diversions such as regular game updates, rewards for veteran players, player-versus-player arena matches and Super Group base raids. Repel Ball is an example of emergent play resulting from player-mastery of the original game system. Given all they knew about how the standard game works, players wove aspects of the existing rules together to form a new diversion, creating something unique and fresh not specifically provided for by the original game designers. A Repel Ball league is being formed on the Victory server--interested villains should visit the Repel Ball web site for more information.

Continue reading: Player-Created Sport Emerges From ‘City of Villains’
  Currently Residing in ‘City of Heroes’  
Posted 2006-11-29 by Tony Walsh
Sometimes a 14-day trial of a subscription-based MMO just isn't enough. I wasn't impressed with my initial 14-day visit to City of Heroes, but warmed up to a 14-day trial of City of Villains. That breaks down to a few days of learning-curve, about a week of using a crappy character, and then a realization that not all characters had to be crappy. If I hadn't had that subsequent City of Villains experience, I'm not sure I'd have subscribed this month. So, I am now living in City of Heroes and loving it. Somehow this ties in to sitting through five seasons of Smallville on DVD over the last few months.

I've got superheroes on the brain, at least for the moment, and am taking time not only to playCity of Heroes/Villains but consider its relationship to comic books, urban spaces, other games, and the MMO industry generally. The game was just updated to "Issue 8" yesterday, with updates 9 through 11 coming in 2007. I'm playing on the Infinity server as the tragic knight Cursed Hand, reluctantly wielding the powers of dark energy to serve the greater good. "The Legendary" Cursed Hand, if you must know. More of my thoughts on the game later this year or early next.
  Will the Real Superheroes Please Stand Up?  
Posted 2006-07-13 by Tony Walsh
Like something out of the movie Mystery Men, aspiring amateur superheroes are strutting their stuff in the hopes of joining a super-group. Wired News reports that Stan Lee, creator of Spider-Man and the Hulk, will be judging the costumed hopefuls, who have such awe-inspiring powers as climbing and balloon-shooting. Ten applicants will reportedly be selected for the show, and will live together for 2 weeks, during which time they will be challenged to demonstrate their superheroic qualities (integrity, courage, self-sacrifice, and honesty). The only thing that could make this show better is to audition supervillains for a competing league of 10 anti-heroes. The two groups would then compete head-to-head in a series of classic comic-style scenarios. I'd be rooting for the villains, naturally.

The upcoming show capitalizes not only on Hollywood's raging interest in superheroes, but also on what seems to be a growing trend of average people donning costumes and taking to the streets in the hopes of righting wrongs. Luke Pie Rocker, a Minnesota pizza-deliverer dressed as a superhero, foiled a purse-snatching last month. At the beginning of the year, writer Warren Ellis was contacted by Doktor DiscorD, representative of the Indianapolis-based crimefighting group Justice Society of Justice. Outside the U.S., there's a UK-based hero called Angle-Grinder Man, Mexico City's political agitator Superbarrio, and northern Canada's Polarman. I've previously blogged about where to find superhero tights and boots, but have yet to commit myself to costumed supervillainy. Lucky for you.
  ‘Broken Saints’ Gets Mainstream Backing  
Posted 2006-05-12 by Tony Walsh
Broken Saints, an independently-produced Canadian motion-graphic comic series, has been picked up by 20th Century Fox Home Video. Formerly available exclusively online, the series picked up a rabid, worldwide fan base, resulting in a re-mastering of its original artwork and addition of professional voice-acting in an initial run of high-quality indie DVDs. The methodical, artistic series grabbed the attention of a Fox exec, who watched the entire 24-episode, multi-disk set in only three days. "When his Disc 4 jammed, he called in a frantic state…asking to have a new one shipped OVERNIGHT!!!" writes a breathless Brooke Burgess, Broken Saints' lead visionary.

According to Burgess, the series will be re-authored again. The upcoming DVD set, which will be released August 1, 2006, will feature "fully re-mixed 5.1 [soundtrack], new chapter art, additional voices and music, 53 new commentaries, new interviews, and more!!!" This is a huge deal for Broken Saints, and may lead to spinoff products--could a movie, TV series or game be on the horizon?

I've written about Broken Saints in the past for Shift Magazine and Exclaim! Magazine: See "Broken Saints," and "Canadians Get Spirited Away."
  ‘Secret Wars’ Re-Enactment  
Posted 2006-04-18 by Tony Walsh
I've learned a lot from live action role-playing games... most importantly how low on the nerd totem pole LARPers reside. Historical re-enactment is, in my opinion, a form of proto-LARP, and I think this isn't lost on the filmmakers behind Secret Wars Re-Enactment Society. The short film (below) is one of the funniest spoofs of re-enactments (and, by extension, LARPing) I've ever seen. And it's funny because it could easily be true. Thanks for the link, Jos.

  Comic Scenes Get New Round of Product Placement  
Posted 2006-04-18 by Tony Walsh
Comic Scenes Get New Round of Product Placement
Nike swoosh, via Marvel Comics.
Wall Street Journal contributor Brian Steinberg reports on the latest merging of comics and advertising in an article entitled "Look -- Up in the Sky! Product Placement!" According to Steinberg, Pontiac cars will be featured in an upcoming DC Comics miniseries, a Dodge car will be added to Marvel Comics environments over the next 4-8 months, and Nike's logo has swooshed onto the pages of Marvel's New X-Men series.

I've seen comic books cross over with advertising before, with Marvel characters of the 1970s hawking Hostess Cupcakes and Fruit Pies. These comic-strip ads were never mistaken for part of the comic book that housed them. In the 1980s, Marvel produced entire comic series based on toy lines--a number of publishers have produced movie and TV tie-ins over the years as well. This latest effort described by The Wall Street Journal doesn't seem all that different, just smarmier. Do Marvel and DC really need ad revenue this badly?
  RealKart:  An Immodest Proposal  
Posted 2006-03-17 by Tony Walsh
Inspired by video of a remote-controlled Red Shell (scroll down) from the Mario series of Nintendo games, and a recent round of RealFrogger, I've illustrated thorough and foolproof plans for re-enacting Kart-style video games in real life. Warning: Do not actually attempt!

Continue reading: RealKart:  An Immodest Proposal
  Eating My Own Dogfood  
Posted 2005-12-15 by Tony Walsh
Culture Clash columnist Matthew Sakey's latest article "Made to be Played" laments the languor that affects game developers--either by fate or will, those who make games often don't play games. Sakey says, in a nutshell, "how do you create a game that speaks to players when you don't know what games say?" I concur. However, I'm also guilty of exhibiting the behaviour Sakey criticizes. When I created a best-selling comic book miniseries in the 1990s, I didn't read many comics (to the obvious detriment of my work, some would say). I was all comic-booked out, being involved in intense production for a 2-year period. I began my so-called New Media career during this time, and followed the same sort of pattern: Make something, shun it. But while I rejected other comic-books while making them, I consumed (and still do) interactive media (such as games) constantly. Just not media I have created. So I suppose I'm only half-guilty. One half seems to be a result of burnout, but what about the other half?

Further musings on Sakey's column can be found at Broken Toys and
  On the Legality of In-Game Portraits [Updated]  
Posted 2005-11-07 by Tony Walsh
Much like there was a bit of a business in portraits for tabletop game characters during the 1980s, it appears that players of today's online games are interested in immortalizing their digital avatars. Alice of Wonderland points out that a World of Warcraft player is offering professional-quality digital paintings of in-game characters in exchange for virtual gold. Elsewhere [I can't find the link right now], real comic book artists are offering to sketch your City of Heroes or City of Villains characters*.

While the idea for in-game portraits had struck me in the past, what stopped me from pursuing the idea was the fact that the imagery being created and sold belongs solely neither to the player nor the artist. Even though players customize their own characters, they don't own their creations. These are instead owned by the game developer or publisher (depending on the terms of service). When an artist paints an in-game character, they are painting a copy of a corporately-owned character. In-game portraits are, in my limited legal understanding, a black market commodity. Does "fair use" apply? Any lawyers or copyright experts care to comment?

Continue reading: On the Legality of In-Game Portraits [Updated]
  Peril in Paragon City  
Posted 2005-10-31 by Tony Walsh
The City of Heroes, properly-known as Paragon City, has a habit of being invaded by Nazis and space-aliens (but not alien Nazis for some reason). Rampaging gangs are the latest big problem, making the city a bloated mess of crime. Luckily, legions of badly-named superheroes have volunteered for cleanup. I'm one of those heroes. They call me The Midnight Kid--your typical tragically-orphaned teenage mutant with blue skin and superhuman reflexes. I'm a scrapper--I like my fights face-to-face and fierce. I grew up on the streets of Paragon City, but I've had it with gangsters and the filth they made of this place. Time to take the streets back, one block at a time.

Slamming sunlight-killing goggles over my night-friendly eyes, I volunteered my crimefighting services to the first cop I met. He hooked me up with the right contacts, and before too long I was throwing crooks in the slammer three at a time. Thing is, Paragon City's got bigger problems than I can handle. Thugs are everywhere. Average peeps are in trouble 'round the clock. It's gettin' to the point where I just can't save all those Average Joes...they're slippin' through my fingers... Sure, I can run faster, jump higher, and fight harder than ever before (thanks to my official training), but I ain't had a lick of sleep in ages. Busting heads is like a full-time job. I don't know how office-capes can jockey a desk all day, knowin' their city's a twenty-four-seven playground for gang-bangers. I got no secret identity, no home...nothing to lose.

Continue reading: Peril in Paragon City
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