Divergent

Divergent (Divergent, #1)Divergent by Veronica Roth

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’m a big fan of dystopian fiction, survival fiction, to some extent military fiction, and I loved The Hunger Games which Divergent gets a lot of crap for copying. I actually saw the trailer for the movie (which I wasn’t really interested in, to be honest) and saw the magical words “based on the best selling novel” and was like “hmm. I should look that one up.” Even if it was just a cash-in ripoff of the success of Hunger Games, I should probably still enjoy it right?

I’m going to put a bottom line up front here: teen and “tweens” will love this book. For the rest of us, it’s just too god damn dumbed down to extract any real entertainment out of. I may have rolled my eyes here and there during Hunger Games, but I never felt like it was actively insulting my intelligence. Divergent… oh my god I felt like I was losing IQ at points.

One of the things I love the most about dystopian fiction is the worldbuilding. What is this world? Why is it dystopian? How did it get this way? Was there a purpose behind making it this way? How are the people coping with their circumstances?
Divergent has almost no worldbuilding. This is the first book in a trilogy (another glaring sign of cashing in… does it need to be a trilogy or are we just hoping to sell 3x the books?) but even if the rest of the series builds the most amazing world, it’s TOO LATE. That shit needs to go in book one, people. The civilization is broken into several factions, and it never explains why. Why do we have these factions? Why were they formed? What is the purpose? There’s a sniff here and there that, hey, maybe there IS actually a plot reason for these factions and it’s not just all pulled out of an ass, but the book doesn’t bother to explain anything to you until a couple of snippets near the end. The main character even explicitly states that she never paid attention in history, to give us a convenient out for not explaining anything.

Speaking of which, the book is in first person present tense, which is a point of view that I loathe. I hated it in Hunger Games and it’s one of the few things I feel really limited the ability to tell the story of that series. In a surprise twist, the POV is probably one of the things that didn’t irritate me about Divergent. I didn’t detect any sloppy mixed tense, and it was effectively used to ramp up the action scenes without losing too many opportunities to advance the plot due to the awkwardness of needing the main character to be present to show the reader every single development.

The problem is, it was probably effective because this book has no god damn plot to advance. The entire plot is “Tris switches factions and goes through hazing rituals for 400 pages”. Then there’s actually a bit of plot in the 10 pages of a war at the end, which is supposed to get you to buy in to the rest of the series. There’s no real background, no worldbuilding, and no real character development either. It’s just Tris going through ordeal after ordeal and trying to survive to make it to the next one, with no clear indication as to why. And also heavy allusions to High School social bullshit (with very one-dimensional bullies), to make sure the kids can relate to her.

The character development was a real issue. We see each and every thought Tris has, and she becomes more and more unlikeable with each one. She comes from the selfless faction, so she’s constantly beating herself over the head with how selfish she’s being now that she’s in a new faction and if she was back home she’d be doing all these selfless acts instead and prostrating herself in front of everyone instead of trying to advance herself. When I say constantly, I mean constantly. She does not shut up about it. Just shut up. Augh. But then she has dizzying bi-polar flips to completely different personalities. She’s flipping between self-loathing to angst to spite to psychopathic rage and then right back to self-loathing (and then incredulousness when she scores first place in everything. How could this be when she’s so bad at stuff?!?). And she’s as thick as molasses in winter, unless the situation dictates that she out-smart everyone by being super clever all of a sudden. Then she will be super clever and amaze everyone. Then she will wonder why everyone is so amazed because she’s so awful at everything how could be they be impressed!??

At one point she asks a stupid question about what’s going on and the reply is “I can’t wait until you finally catch on”. I wrote a note next to it saying “Me too.”  If you ever find yourself reading a book and the main character says “I open my mouth to object, but I can’t.  He’s right.”, and you find yourself yelling “OF COURSE HE IS RIGHT YOU STUPID BITCH”, the character might not be well written.

The characters are all one-dimensional and feel unnatural because they only display character traits when it is necessary to advance the scene (whether or not it makes ANY GOD DAMN SENSE based on past scenes involving that character.  Al?  What the fuck was that, besides a transparent attempt at subverting the expected to elicit shock). The book attempts to use the same “hook” the Maze Runner did of trying to not tell the reader anything about what’s going on, in the hopes it keeps you curious enough to keep reading to find out. What that means is, Tris flips between being completely oblivious and missing the obvious when they want to tell the reader something without “telling” Tris… and asking very pointed and clever questions to try to get to the heart of things, only to be told “I’ll explain later.” It’s infuriating, and it feels completely contrived from start to finish.

And then there’s the romance. The rating of this book plummeted so much during those pages, let me tell you. Before that it was a mediocre but at least sort of interesting attempt at a story that I could see the younger readers really enjoying. The romance heated up and it became porn for 12 year olds. Oh they’ll love it, because it’s perfectly and very pointedly targetted at that age where they’re desperate to know anything about sex and this is a likely parentally-approved route to reading about it (no sex takes place oh goodness no they just cuddle and kiss no sex nope). But it suffers from the same character development flaws as the rest of the book. These characters are not acting naturally, they’re acting in a way that is carefully designed to appeal to a younger audience. Add to that Tris’s ABSOLUTELY INFURIATING obliviousness every single time her boyfriend is on screen (gosh they kissed last night and now he’s ignoring her at breakfast how could this be she thought he loved her he must actually hate her she wants to cry this is so awful because there couldn’t possibly be any other explanation for him not wanting to reveal to everyone in the military compound that they’re in love since you know he’s kind of the leader of the group and boy I don’t see any problems with this news getting out do you? Nope he must hate her now well fine then she hates him too. Oh wait he was acting that way to hide that fact that he loves her because if everyone else found out they might think there was bias going on oh my god he’s soooooo smart she loves him so much for being so smart ~*~dreamy sigh~*~)
… okay I got carried away but ugh. ugh. I don’t even care if this is an accurate portrayal of how teens think. It was tedious.

It gets a lot of crap for copying Hunger Games, but I actually didn’t feel it was much of a rip-off for most of the story… but at the end it veered down a path which is dangerously close to copying plot points word for word. I’m not sure what I think of that, and I’m not sure I will bother delving into book two to find out how Divergent (heh heh heh) it is, because I cannot stand the thought of sitting through another book of Tris’s tortured thoughts and self-flagellation over her lover boy.

In short (yes I know it’s too late for short): I feel like it’s a carefully engineered attempt at cashing in on popular-genre-of-the-week. It doesn’t feel genuine to me. This book was not written to entertain, it was written to sell. It’s unfortunate.

[edit] Now having finished reading, I read some more stuff on the internet and it seems like the author is actually quite young.  I could be wrong about it being deliberately written to appeal to a juvenile audience… it might just be working out that way due to the age of the author.  I bet if young adult dystopia wasn’t “the thing” right now, though, no publisher would have come within a mile of it, much less the movie deals.  But thanks to genre-of-the-week they were all over it like ants in a pop can on a hot day…

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Powerplay Manager (sort of)

This isn’t so much a review of a game as it is a rant about the current status of certain things. I ended up tagging this both “I like it” AND “I don’t like it” because there are elements of both, I guess.

I’ve been playing “Powerplay Manager” which is a browser game where you manage a hockey team.  I started playing it because there are absolutely no worthwhile hockey manager games on the market right now, and the ones that ARE available via being propped up by the fan modding community (like Eastside Hockey Manager) all use current rosters of teams and players.  I’m keeping an eye on the Hockey manager game being produced by OOTP… but it looks like they’re going for the current roster deal, too, since they’re basically trying to make a modern Eastside Hockey Manager.  I’m not interested in simulating the NHL, I just wanted to play with fantasy teams and players where the “stars” are not based on real-life reputation.  I want to build my own unique team and play against opponents who are not modelled after existing teams, so that I can learn their strengths and weaknesses as I go, rather than try to figure it out based on real history.  It’s actually kind of amazing to me that there aren’t more fantasy sports games available which aren’t just trying to emulate reality.
I actually REALLY want ‘Football Manager’, except Hockey, not Football.  I wonder who I can send letters to in order to accomplish that…

Anyway, PPM is kind of cool in that every player and every team is either player controlled, or computer controlled waiting for a player to make an account and take over.  They’re not based on real teams or players at all, it’s all generated with RNG.  Half of your job as manager is to take your roster and tell them how to train and delegate the players into the best position for their stats.  Each player has a ‘quality’ rating which dictates how well they learn in each stat, and each position values certain stats over others.  At the same time, an offensive player with a higher defense stat will still contribute to preventing the other team from getting scoring chances, and stuff like “shooting” isn’t necessarily tied to any one position but will dictate whether your scoring chances actually turn into goals.  You set “tactics” for the team too which can take advantage of the way you’ve designed their stats – if your defense is high in offense as well, you can go for an aggressive approach, or if your offense is high in defense, go for a shutdown approach… and there are some other, more subtle options, as well.

The other half of your job is to upgrade your arena (making room for people to sit so they can come to your games, buy your shitty food and souvenirs, and give you $$$$$ to provide more capital to upgrade or hire players), upgrade your facilities (if you have better training facilities your players learn better… medical facilities for injuries… yadda yadda), and hiring and training staff to man those positions.  Periodically you have to review applications for new staff or players, and decide if you want to take them on or just reject their resume.

Of course, it’s a browser game.  Which means your team plays one hockey match every two days, and everything happens at pretty much a real-time pace.  I’ve been playing for over a year now, logging in once a day or so to check up on my game schedule, see if any players need to switch to training a different stat, and deciding if I have enough cash to start a new arena upgrade (upgrades take upwards of 45 real-time days to complete, usually).  It’s taken a year, and I’m still not anywhere near in contention for any sort of playoff position or even winning any sort of trophies, but my stars are actually starting to score goals, and my prospects are getting to the point where they’re starting to move into the line-up and bump out the low-quality losers I started with who just sort of take up space.  I kind of want a not-browser based version just so it doesn’t take over a year for my team to start winning a game every now and then; There is a certain appeal to being able to hit “next day” and have it immediately jump instead of literally waiting 24 hours.  Sadly there is no game like that which exists.

Which brings me to my next rant.  I’ve been playing this game for a year… and I’ve been reasonably enjoying it.  They (like most browser games) offer perks if you throw money at them.  In the case of this game, there are a couple “one off” purchases like designing a custom puck you can trade with teams, or customizing your arena, designing a goalie mask… lots of little neat cosmetic things.  There is also a Pro Pack which brings a lot of features, such as designing a jersey logo, assigning numbers to your players, automated training so they can train a number of stats at once without having to micromanage it, and access to a lot of in-depth stats which might help you decide how to train your players (on top of just being kind of interesting, if you’re into that sort of thing).  I thought to myself “It’s probably worth supporting them… let’s see how much a pro pack costs”.

The pack only lasts for a limited amount of time, and works out to about 15 bucks a week.  Seriously?  Seriously?
If you buy in bulk you get a huge discount, so you can buy a year for 50 bucks, but seriously?  I’ve been playing this game for a year but my actual playtime is only a couple of days worth.  Is it worth 50 bucks to get some nifty stats I can look at for 5 minutes a day?  Fuck no.  Especially not when it expires.  If it were a permanent account upgrade maybe, maybe I would consider it… but even then I would be thinking “eeennnghhh…”

Not quite as egregious as playing 65 fucking dollars for a mine in Mine Things, but the mines don’t fucking expire at least. (unless you rent them… and then you get two weeks for 7 bucks or so, instead of one for fifteen.)

Why do these companies feel the need to be so greedy?  I was perfectly willing to support them because I like the game they’ve set up, but the moneygrabbing is so disgusting that I’m not even sure I want to continue logging in.  According to the statistics screen, they have 4000-5000 people logged in at any point in time, so it’s not even really a question of volume.  Have we learned nothing from the age of Steam Sales, where games fly off the shelves and make a killing at 2.50 a pop simply because people are like “fuck it, it’s 2.50” even if they never bother to get around to installing the damn thing?  If it was a year of Pro Pack for 10 bucks I would probably talk myself into it, even with the expiry.  4000 people talking themselves into it is 40,000 dollars.  Is 1/4 of the current player base going to talk themselves into dropping 50 bucks on a year of pro pack?  It’s possible I suppose, but I can tell you I’ve seen maybe two opponents who weren’t on their introductory free week of pro who actually had a logo.  And if they weren’t so greedy with the pack fees I’d probably be more willing to design a puck for my team, or buy in to some of the other cosmetic fun stuff.  Instead, I continue to pay zero.  Which is actually more likely to be a negative number because of bandwidth costs (although I probably don’t use THAT much bandwidth logging in for 5 minutes a day, I guess).

Ugh it’s a shame.  I guess I should have expected it, though… I followed a link to one of their associated games once, which turned out to be a “Mafia-Wars-Esque” style game where you have X number of action points and you try to fill up the little bars and unlock the boss at the end of a stage, collecting money and items as you go.  Mindless and pointless, but progressing is kind of fun to do since it only takes a couple minutes each day, right?  Except every time you went to do an action it would pop up a window saying “Gosh if you gave us money this window would go away!  But since you haven’t given us any money you will be able to play in 3…… 2…… 1……”

Guess what game I’M not playing!

Mine Things

I have been playing a browser game called “Mine Things”.  Maybe I should put “playing” in quotes.  The premise of the game is that we fucked up the Earth, left, then came back in the future and started mining on the ruined Earth (pretty much the same setting as WALL-E, without the search for life).  As a result, you mine things like umbrellas, clothing, weapons, ships, vehicles or, uh… camels.  The setting is basically an excuse to mine things, as opposed to the components to make things.  (Because seriously if we’re from the future, why am I putzing around on a camel I dug out of the ground instead of a god damn space ship.  So yeah, don’t worry about the plot making sense!)

Each player receives a starting mine, which has a little worker robot that digs up items.  It does this very, very, slowly.  It’s measured in buckets per hour, and they are real-time hours.  You get one item maybe every 8 hours or so, but of course there is an RNG element to it.  You can also get more equipment that improves the number of buckets per hour you dig up, which can help a bit.  So you don’t really play Mine Things, you log in once or twice a day and see what’s up.  There’s a linear progression of rarity, with yellow items being pretty common and you’re guaranteed to find one or two a day most likely, but then finding much rarer items is a fraction of a percent of a chance, and could take months or a lot of luck.  There are a number of orange items (the rarest) which are still listed as undiscovered because no one in the game has dug one up yet.

The “goal” of the game is to create melds of items.  The melds are largely nonsensical combinations of things that can be dug up.  This gives a purpose to the non-equippable items, and makes finding the rare items exciting.  The number of melds you have corresponds to your level, and unlocks new professions to try.  Items can be bought or sold automatically to whoever has the highest/lowest bids, so you can try to complete your collection of melds even if you haven’t found the proper whatsits for it yet.  Players set the market, so obviously rarer stuff, or things used in many different melds, tend to have much higher value than say, the toothbrush everyone digs up 80 of despite having completed the one meld it’s used in on probably your first day.  (Fortunately you can also set mines to auto-trash an item if you are never ever ever going to use or sell it.  Fucking toothbrushes…).

Up to this point, the game is basically a mining version of ProgressQuest.  And honestly, I really liked it.  There is something satisfying about logging in to see what your mine has uncovered.  It could be rare! It could be valuable! It could be exciting!  Slow but steady progress and an appeal to the horrible completionist within me.  And at higher levels of melds you can try professions like fisherman, instead of mining, and even some more complicated systems like setting up factories that other players can work in.

Now comes the tricky part.  The starter mine is just one of many kinds of mines.  The mines are spread over a number of different cities within the world.  You, as the player, can pop to any city you want (once you’ve sent a vehicle out and discovered it, anyway.  Discovering a town is literally selecting a question mark from a dropdown list and waiting for the vehicle to arrive, so don’t get too excited about the “exploration”) and buy and sell things.  To actually create a meld out of those items, you need to transport the items back to your home town.  So even if you buy up mines all over the world, you’ll still need to transport the goodies back home.

Which is where the conflict comes in.  One of the professions a higher level player can choose involves pilfering items from vehicles/ships enroute.  The combat system is…….. not great.  The most common defense a player uses is to send out a bunch of empty decoy vehicles to tie up would-be attackers, so that their goods make it through.  Which means the would-be attackers amass an army of vehicles to counter the decoys and dig down to the treasure trove.  Not only does owning that many vehicles take a lot of cash, but at that point they probably have inventory expansions to hold all the vehicles that new players can’t really compete with.  And since it’s an online game, you just have your standard dicks who destroy vehicles and make you lose your goods because they think it’s funny to ruin someone’s day.

I’m really not interested in this sort of conflict.  The game is pointless enough in the first place… getting lucky and finding a super rare item just to have it *yoink*ed is not appealing to me.  (Losing items by taking a risk and failing is one thing… losing items because you have to travel along routes is entirely another.)  I’ve avoided all transport of valuable goods so far because I’ve had enough not-valuable goods stolen to see that it’s common.  Fans of the game will argue that you should set up an alliance with a powerful guard who will travel in front of you and waylay the pirates, but that’s not appealing to me either.  I just want to find treasure and complete collections without combat being mandatory.  I did try the guard professions to see if I could make a dent in the pirate threat, but found that my ship was eluded by much faster ships or the crew was outnumbered sometimes 2 to 1 and didn’t even attempt to fight, despite having a decent stash of weapons.  It suggested to me that I need much better vehicles/weapons to even attempt to compete, much less transport valuable things.  Meanwhile, I’m not making any cash…

Adding to the annoyance is that you must set a specific profession for each kind of travel.  While moving goods by land, I can’t move them by sea, and vice versa.  While hunting pirates on the sea, I can’t move goods anywhere, nor can I do any guarding on land routes.  You can still buy/sell in towns, but nothing is going home to make melds until you set your profession back to the right kind of transport.  It’s clunky and artificially limiting.

And then there are the mines.  The only way to acquire a new mine is to buy it from a player who no longer wants it… or buy it for real money from the game site itself.  Therefore each new mine must enter the game via real cash.  Therefore players who forked out real cash for mines want a healthy gold return on their obsolete and now unwanted mines.  Everyone starts with a starter mine, and even those go for 6000 gold (hint: 6000 gold is still a lot).  To get the most expensive kind of mine in the game will cost you 60,000 gold, or 675 credits.  You get 50 credits for 5 dollars.  The most expensive mine in the game costs 67.5 real dollars to purchase.  You can buy brand new AAA titles for less than that mine in this browser game.  The cheapest mine – the starter mine that everyone starts with – costs 75 credits.  So the cheapest (and most useless, since you already have one) mine costs 7.5 dollars, and it is substantially cheaper than the rest.

If I were really enjoying the game I would probably drop 5 bucks on a new kind of mine, but sixty dollars what.

And then after I dropped cash on the mine, I’d probably be unable to move my valuable goods from it back home without heavily investing in armed forces to protect them.  Ugh, I just… why isn’t there a god damn game where I can collect and trade things and have some sense of progression without an extensive leaning on combat or player vs player conflict?  And no, I don’t mean Animal Crossing.  I want there to be some kind of point to the progression, and I also don’t want the game patronizing me and filling up with cockroaches if I take a break for a couple days.

The game itself is certainly unique and there are some neat ideas in it, especially if you like the social aspects of working with strangers and coordinating things (the player run banking system is especially neat), but I’m not sure that I can recommend it.  If the pirating/griefing appeals to you you’d probably like it, but then that’s probably why the game is filling up with pirates and making it hard for peaceful traders to actually enjoy it.

Back to my search for a decent trading MMO…