Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Beautiful Tyrannous People

"If I was beautiful like you
I would never be at fault
I'd walk in the rain between the raindrops
Bringing traffic to a halt"

Joydrop - Beautiful


Spoilers? Yeah, Tyranny.

Much as I like Tyranny and its setting, characters and role-playing quandaries, its visibly rushed production left many aspects pixelated around the edges, including some characters' personalities. In many cases they simply betray a schizophrenia obviously borne upon multiple writers' quills (and takes on each persona.) The bloody-minded, bold and resolute Verse whom you meet in Act 1 for example simply doesn't speak like the jarringly soulful sympathy-hound which seems to crop up randomly from her psyche during some dialogues. In fact a quick comparison of the game's various NPC companions, quest-givers and bosses shows a marked tendency to lend more dignity to or "redeem" characters occupying a favorable social role. Ask yourself which gender of NPC would receive the moniker "Brown-Bottom" and you'll quickly realize that despite a fair attempt at building a world of villains and misery, the writers' prejudices led them to play favorites.

This certainly becomes apparent with the Archons of War and Secrets who bracket most of your campaign. Granted that the Voices of Nerat was very consistently built up as a prototypical irredeemable sociopath, but somewhere along the way we lose track of the fact that Graven Ashe is only meant to look the lesser evil by comparison to his chief antagonist. Gradually, where the brilliant, philosophical Nerat receives a classic mad scientist's narrative treatment, the comparatively simpleminded but fatherly, protective Ashe is spoken of only in terms of his positive qualities. Does anyone even remember, by the end of the story, that Graven Ashe is an unflinchingly genocidal racist? Or that his scorched earth strategy would yield not only the destruction of the Chorus, but the agonizing starvation of whatever's left of an entire territory?

However, the true teacher's pet must undeniably be named Sirin. I refused to even go near her during my first playthrough, as her mind control superpower strikes my chaotic neutral, Pandemonium-bound lupine self as the absolute creepiest thing in the game, beyond Kills-in-Shadow's manic bloodlust, Bleden Mark's omnipresence or even Nerat's... well, y'know, Nerat. There's little in the conceivable multiverse so inherently vile as controlling another thinking being's thoughts (and therefore being) and yet despite the Archon of Song's casual abuse of this Geneva contravention for her own entertainment, we're repeatedly pushed to swallow the notion of her as an idealistic do-gooder lecturing everyone around her on their character flaws.
Seriously? "Won't somebody please think of the children" delivered by a villainess who snuffs out the very light of reason within flesh by a mere syllable? And the only thing my character can respond to her utterly impractical, shortsighted, nonsensical and insubordinate caterwauling is a stale, snappish little "shut up Wesley" designed only to make the mouthy little brat seem even more sympathetic?

Who the hell Maryd this Sue? There's obviously a disconnect between the initial character design and its ultimate implementation, evident in her very powerset. Where the textual description of her powers comes across as blatantly offensive (both practically and morally) her talent trees make her into a largely team-friendly omnivalent buffbot with none of the thematic coherence of the other characters (why exactly does she have a boulder attack and a lightning storm attack?) Someone desperately wanted to make Sirin look good instead of the capricious spoiled banshee her basic character embodies, and hugely overshot the mark. While we can easily accept that every sadistic powermonger on Terratus would envy her abilities, there's absolutely no reason why everyone would be letting the sanctimonious snot browbeat them without mind control even being mentioned. Even the ostensibly scarier demons like Bleden Mark and Nerat get called names and denounced occasionally, at least behind their backs.

Archon or no Archon, Overlord's pet or not, Sirin gets away with more bullshit than the rest of the cast put together, never getting called out on anything and always getting the last word. Leaving aside the cognitive dissonance of the sole voice of benevolence coming from a teenage girl (has no-one at Obsidian actually met a teenage girl?) where exactly did Sirin acquire her ethical guidelines? From a brief lifetime locked in an ivory tower under the tutelage of the megalomaniacal ancient evil world dictator?

Or let's word these questions another way: had Sirin been a male with the same mind-shattering power, how would he have been portrayed?

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Kill Six Billion Demons

Spoilers pertaining to the webcomic in question follow here, though this one's certainly no mystery novel.

First off, let us doff our hats to that truly stellar title! I mean, that's the sort of title you normally only find emblazoned in a dripping blood font on death metal album covers. Yet it just rolls off the tongue like bile, an effect the author seems to have quite consciously created, given the one panel in which it visually rolls in incendiary glory from the mouth of an otherworldly terror. And... AND! that's just as you learn this proclamation of doom's no less than somebody's . freaking . Name .

Whew. That's setting a loud decibel level, alright.

I hold world-building to greater relevance than most, and this comes with a staunch appreciation for bombast, for the lavish grandiloquence which built up our ancestors' folklore from the depths of Tartarus to the top of Mount Olympus, from Diyu to Sheol and Niflheim. It's hard to go over the top with material inspired by the rantings of witless, illiterate, flea-bitten bronze-age bards who thought caves and mountaintops were whole separate realms of existence, so a story drawing on classic mythology usually does well to include a primitive's incredulity and sense of wonder at the vastness of the world ("We're going to see the elves, Mr. Frodo!")

Like most modern media products, Kill Six Billion Demons falls into a lot of politically correct posturing, so the revelation that the prophecied hero simply must (naturally!) be replaced by a heroine prompts exhausted eye-rolling rather than raised eyebrows. The frequently trite interpersonal side of the story falls in step, with one of the heroine's two advisors being a trans-sexual angel who at one point rails against her fellow angels' trans-phobia: if god made us sexless, what sense does it make to insist all angels are male?
Actually, by that same logic, what sense does it make for you to want to play dress-up in the first place? If it's no big deal, why are you making such a big deal out of it?
The second heroine's advisor's arguably much worse, being an author avatar, and any of their scenes together comes across more like an embarrassingly overemoting self-insert slashfic of a more dignified plot running in the background. Needless to say this good demon's a quirky, plucky little girl who nonetheless embodies awesomah powah! And she wants to be good but wouldn't you know it the universe is somehow plotting to temp her to evil, presumably to be redeemed by love's true lesbian kiss or some schlock at a later date.
Though eschewing heroes in favor of heroines, villains of course remain decidedly male, with the most notable exception launching into a rant against the male gaze as her self-justification.

Despite such all too common tendencies, that background running behind the trite, shallow, snowflake moral posturing more than makes up for it. That villainness eventually gets called out on (part of) her bullshit, if not nearly as strongly as I'd have preferred, and the frequent by-the-numbers railing against male sexuality (every villain owns a brothel in this story) is halfway allowed to meld into a much wider landscape. KSBD sidesteps the pitfall of its contemporaries like Eth's Skin of grinding the story to a complete halt to bring you this public service announcement. Locale after locale of its mythical world is illustrated in ludicrously detailed crowd scenes, and the splash screens expositing each new backdrop are (and no other word would fit) epic. Basing its story largely on the mythical themes of south-western Asia instead of the elves and dragons we've all grown to yawn at, the artist also puts staggering amounts of work into the convoluted, endlessly re-iterative Rococo parade of angels and devils this entails. If nothing else the sheer visual detail, easy to grasp at a glance but always offering more under closer scrutiny, makes KSBD stand out among the usually perfunctory or amateurish comic "art." It rarely forgets its sense of grandeur and fantastic exploration.

It's not enough to render the comic's bouts of sour old political correctness palatable, but it's enough to mask the taste. It makes "what fresh hell is this" sound appealing. And, when not playing in tune to modern moral guardians, the dialogue proves itself very endearing in its flowery bazaar manners and rhetoric. An attention to detail ranging from the cadence of syllables to wondrous vistas to scuffs on clay pots to the expression of wing-eyes goes a long way.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Self-DeterminEd to prove - ?

"Therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
[...] 
I am determined to prove a villain"

 
Billy Wagglepoker - Dickie Tres

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"I'm the last of my guy friends to have never gotten married, and their wives - they don't want them playing with me. I'm like the escaped slave - I bring news of freedom."

- Some Other Billy


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Consider the world feminists declare is defined by patriarchal oppression, where any man deemed unfit by women or not subjugating himself to female whims must be immediately brought to heel or if not, branded a villain. Consider that the irrational slavishness to which any American man must swear allegiance in order to run for any political office higher than dog park commissioner includes not only superstitious belief in the supernatural but marriage as well.