Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Future Farmers of Alderaan

Part Two of an ongoing series. Read the Introduction.


So I guess the most important place to start is with the idea that, above and beyond any other considerations, Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes is a massively popular video game for your cell phone built on an inherently abusive business model. 
The game is made by EA Games, who got into trouble recently around the release of their Star Wars: Battlefield II game – well, “got into trouble” is putting it rather mildly. They fucked up the release of a video game so bad they got lawmakers involved. That’s an exceptionally bad day at work the likes of which I cannot even comprehend. I cry if the phone rings. They got into trouble because of these things called Loot Boxes that are apparently Gambling 4 Kidz, which makes complete sense as a business model if your business model includes getting laws passed specifically to ban your business model. 
OK, real talk: I have no idea what a Loot Box is because the last video game system I owned was a Wii. We bought it really late in the product cycle, when they were so cheap it was throwing away money not to get one, really. And we played it some – my ex loved Bully, and I fully believe that she would buy a new video game system tomorrow if they announced Bully 2. I tried to pick up Mario again but, just like when I was twelve my inability to pass the ice levels presents a serious obstacle to me ever achieving anything of value in my life. 
Now that we have established my complete ignorance about the world of contemporary video games allow me to explain the business model of Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes: it’s Gambling 4 Kidz.

It’s basically awful. I think it’s similar to how most of these kinds of games work. You have to collect things. You have to collect a lot of different things. This collection, or “farming,” is not something than follows my schedule. It’s like a real job that requires real consistency to work. Ooooorrrrrr you can pay for more crystals that buy you more chances to farm the gear you need. They don’t tell you what the odds are for these drops, either. You have to guess – some stuff, particularly at a lower rarity, drops at a rate pretty close to 1:1. The further up the tree you get, the more valuable the gear, the worse the odds. Of course, there’s no way to know because they keep all that stuff “under the hood.”
The reason why consistency is important goes back to the predatory business model, and the reason why I play this game at all: the developers do, to their credit, play completely fair. By which I mean that everything in the game is available without paying. Or perhaps it would be more precise to say there is nothing in the game that you absolutely positively have to pay money for.     
Are there things that you need to dig in for a long and boring stretch of farming to be able to get? Oh yeah. Are there things I don’t think I will probably be able to get still for years? Definitely. Wampa, I’m looking at your furry ass. 
Believe me, if you believe nothing else I say, that I have never paid so much as one thin dime on Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes. Despite the fact that advancement is excruciatingly slow – it is consistent. Because I never pay, and indeed, because not paying is the entire point, I accept that I can’t miss a single day. I never have.
If all this seems abstract, an illustration: 
The most powerful character in the game is currently Commander Luke Skywalker – currently one of only two versions of Luke available, the other being Farmboy Luke. Commander Luke is wearing the togs he wore for the back half of Empire Strikes Back. The way to get Commander Luke (or “CLS”) was to have the five characters needed for the CLS challenge that only comes around every few months – the five characters being Farmboy Luke, Old Ben, R2-D2, Princess Leia, and Stormtrooper Han (Han dressed like a Stormtrooper, ‘natch). All five characters had to be at seven stars (“7*,” which is the full amount of stars) to qualify for the challenge. I should mention that R2 here was himself a character only available in a challenge – one that required Empire characters. I was able to score an R2 within twenty minutes of him being available because I already had a good Empire team. Of course, then it took months to get R2 geared up – as of this writing I still have to fill a couple gear slots to get R2 finished. The only thing my CLS needs, however, is to fill is one more Zeta ability, and then he’ll be finished. The only character I have completely “done” as of this writing is Grand Moff Tarkin, because he’s extraordinarily important for the Ships minigame – 
Alright, how much of that did you retain? It’s a lot.
So, CLS: a character so powerful he reshapes the metagame within hours of being released. In the first place it took me months to get him because Old Ben and Farmboy Luke are both extraordinarily boring characters who don’t really do much else but get you Commander Luke. But get them I had to. And then once I had Commander Luke I had to fill out his equipment, which – even given the fact that I rushed him to the top of every queue and spared no expense to get him up to gear as quickly as possible, still took months and months of careful and patient farming. 
But someone – more than one someone, lots of someone’s – had CLS up to 7* and fully geared at Level XII with all three of his Zeta abilities within the first day of his release. And while it would be theoretically possible to be able to plan ahead to outfit CLS completely within minutes of unlocking him with what you had on hand, it’s unlikely. Somewhere there are people dropping tens of thousands of dollars on pixels on a cell phone game, for – what? I’m not sure. I’ve never paid anything and I got the exact same dude, I just had to wait a while. 
So while on one level it’s a completely awful and predatory business model, it’s also one that seems like it could only thrive if there was a hard core of whales somewhere in Hollywood and / or Dubai doing intense amounts of cocaine while dropping 50K in an hour on some cellphone game they’ll probably forget about in a month. Are there people out there mortgaging their homes to level up CLS? I really don’t think so. I hope there aren’t. There probably are. But at a certain point the price of keeping up through sheer brute force cash infusions is going to weed out everyone but people who don’t look at their credit card receipts before they pay the bills. They’re the people who have subsidized the last two years and counting of my game experience – long may rich people spend their money unwisely. I’m poor, trans, and mentally ill: this is as close to public charity as I’m likely to get in Trump’s America.   
That’s my goal: to be the very best, like no one ever was. It may seem a modest goal but it’s a serious goal in my life to continue to play this game and, over the course of however long it lasts (praying of course that Disney doesn’t yank the license out of EA’s hands for their malfeasance before I can enact Full Socialism in a galaxy far, far away), keep getting better at beating rich people who don’t know how to spend their money. 
But it requires vigilant farming to do this. How like life: a lack of money can only be circumvented by maintaining strict and punishing self-discipline, which involves things like getting out of bed during daytime hours. I know that I’m the most vigilant farmer in my Guild because I’ve led in Raid Tickets and Guild Tokens since we started – by many thousands of points in both cases. (Those are farming stats – I know, fun!) I don’t know how many other people in my Guild are strictly Free-to-Play – “F2P” – but it doesn’t stop me being at the top of almost all the stats. 

Except for my team’s actual Arena performance, which is something we’re working on, but we’ll catch up with that by the by.

Galaxy of Zeroes

2. Future Farmers of Alderaan
3. Of Mos Espa 

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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Galaxy of Zeroes

So here’s the thing. Let me start: 

I’ve been living on an almond farm for almost eight months as I write this. Eight months spent in various states of panic, poverty, and pain – really, in all seriousness, a more melodramatic period of my life than I have seen in many a year. 

Before I came to the farm I finished a book, Tomorrow Is Always The Best Day Of My Life (make sure that Is, The, & Of are capitalized when you speak it). I thought I had a hook up for publisher but that didn’t really pan out – no one’s fault, it was a completely leftfield opportunity that probably only had a small chance of succeeding in any event – but it was what I had, and I’m grateful that I even had it. I’m back to what I spent most of my twenties doing: writing e-mails to people in the publishing industry and begging them to read my shit. 

But seriously if you know any agents . . . 

It’s funny how this happened when I wasn’t looking! I don’t know what I thought I was going to be doing after I left work, but I certainly don’t know if I would’ve made the conscious decision to try writing again (as if it wasn’t literally the only thing I know how to do). I think simply getting to the end of that part of my life in one piece was achievement enough. I didn’t give much thought to what was going to happen after I crash landed in my parents’ front room at the jolly old age of 36. All this and, ladies, she’s single, too. 
I made an abortive attempt at beginning a sequel to the last book – one chapter in before abandoning it. The reason why I abandoned it was that it was really depressing. A few people have read it. It’s called “Delaware.” I was very proud of the thing, but after I’d had it up on the site for four hours I got a tummy ache and took it down. Perhaps at the time I thought I’d put it up again, but no. It’s a portrait of a pretty raw period of my life. Very angry, sad, intimate. Those who read it before it got taken down all agreed it was a harrowing and moving piece of work. I felt as proud of that essay as anything I’d ever written. 

But maybe what I was most proud of was simply having survived to get to where I could write about the last months at work, and the move, and the separation, and some other thing that escapes me . . .

It’s a good essay. But it made me cry when I reread it to recognize myself in it. And that was a shock! After having sat on it, brooded over it in chunks for months and months, having written it and edited it and copyedited it – it was only when I saw it up on the website in its finished form that I realized how massively depressed I was. I needed a mirror to see what was clear at that point to literally everyone else in my life. 

And not just depressed – in complete shock. I brought down the curtain on a whole other life that no longer exists, folded up a person who no longer exists and put all his shit in a storage unit in Dixon. Now instead of rent I pay a fee at a locker. Technically two if you count the one I inherited from my parents that has the bulk of my comics. It’s a medium-term goal in my life to divest myself of most of those comics by way of my dear friend Mike who I believe would be kind enough to pay pennies on the dollar for some bullshit I bought when I was sad in 1994. All of which is to say: in a very real way I’m going to be dragging bits and pieces of that person around with me for the rest of my life. 
But that’s a crude and vulgar metaphor that lets me off the hook for a lot. It’s not like he was a different person. He was me. I did what I had to do. 
I sincerely hope that if you ever get a second chance at life you will be able to rise to the challenge. I fear I’ve taken a bit of time to wallow. Family commitments – but then, that was the last bit of his life. Had to find a new way to live with the flesh and blood. And I have. 
So no, I crash-landed with no real plan for how to extricate myself. And as it turned out it was a lucky fall: my mom ended up having health problems that were serious enough that, had I not already been back, I would have had to move back at least part time. I’ll be here a while yet as my mom is still not out of the woods. But there’s at least a roadmap and we’re moving towards a near-term goal of surgery – not near term enough for my mother who has to live in severe pain, certainly, but with some alacrity as far as medical questions are concerned. I don’t have siblings so I haven’t had much in the way of relief, but they do have a home health aid paid for by the county who comes three times a week. 
I’ve been using the time productively: I’ve started writing fantasy novels! It’s actually quite fun. Still ironing out some kinks as I go along but I’m intent on moving forward. It’s a question of mass, really, in this kind of writing, so I need to accrete some mass before I can expect to be able to sell anything. I think they’re shaping up pretty good, at least inasmuch as I enjoy writing them and I think people will enjoy reading them.
Through it all one constant – Star Wars
OK, that’s silly, and melodramatic, and almost certainly the line you’re going to want to put on the book jacket one day note to self. 
But seriously. I’m a mess. A complete tire fire. I mentioned to a friend that I needed an incentive to get up in the morning. It was supposed to be funny because of what I was referring to as my actual incentive. It actually ended up sounding more like a profound statement about myself and my personality: I need to get up around noon because that’s a credit drop for Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes. And I miss the noontime drop some days but on the whole over the course of the last two years and counting I’ve hit it more days than not. 
And that’s been the constant. Not necessarily Star Wars – believe it or not I go through periods where I don’t really want to think about Star Wars at all, which did present an obstacle when I was trying to conceptualize a long-term project. It’s such an all-in multi-sensory experience that you need to take periodic breaks. I know that might surprise some of you considering that I do sleep on a Darth Vader blanket. 
All this and, ladies, she’s single, too. 
But for Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes I have not missed a single day since I downloaded the program the first week of January 2016. When I downloaded the game on my then brand new iPhone, I still had a beard, to give you an idea. It’s February of 2018 and we’re living in one of the really depressing chapters towards the end of The Past Through Tomorrow, but I still have never missed a day. Even through periods when by rights I really should probably have been institutionalized. But I didn’t because I had to keep up my game. 
That’s weird! That’s weird, right? My internal clock is so completely fucked that I have to subcontract my executive dysfunction out to a video game – that really should not present such a strong incentive to keep me from actually seeking medical care, should it? And yet it did. 
So I know people want me to write about Star Wars. And I’ve been wracking my brain for some kind of idea that could allow me to actually get a book out of writing about Star Wars. (Short of starting my own Star Wars novels in private that no one gets to read but me and my future bride. And if she doesn’t even like Star Wars then no one else will get to read them.) But as easy as it sounds to just say “let’s write a book about Star Wars!” no actual ideas were forthcoming. 
Until I realized why I got up in the morning. So that’s your book right there. I figure I’ll put up new chapters on the Patreon every week or better, and those new chapters will go up on the blog a week or so – but not less than seven days – after they’re made available for subscribers. Yeah, suddenly this blog post has become a come-on for my Patreon, but look: I don’t ever want to have a boss again so please help me fulfill my lifelong goal of being able to make enough money writing about Star Wars to never be lonely again. 
Why, there might even already be another chapter, now, behind the $5 paywall on my Patreon. If you want to read it now, click on the link. If you wait a week you’ll read it for free. You can still get lots of stuff if you only donate $1 or $2. 
Please and thank you. Let’s do this.