Friday, February 27, 2015

Ya Can't Torq'em-outta Anything!

- and if you haven't seen History of the World Part 1 yet, it's well worth the boring parts for the scattered brilliance.

But anyway, this is about Arabs again. If you're gonna bitch about Islam, you also have to bitch at the ceaseless petroleum-lubed circle-jerk between western corporatism and Saudi Arabia. The mass-media line on this whenever politician obfuscators and the mass-media news (-erasing) machine can be cornered into commenting on it at all is that Saudi Arabia confers "stability" to the region. Oh, hell yeah it does. Been stable for over a millennium. Nothing more stable than reducing most of the population to kneelers and chanters terrified of making the slightest faux pas for fear of getting executed.

It's a brutal, repressive, theocratic dictatorship. In that context, stability is not a good thing you brainwashed media junkies! Who the hell looks back at inquisition Spain and thinks "if only it'd been more stable"?

Thursday, February 26, 2015


Whee, I'm banned from Smite so it's time to write a post about it.

Smite mostly reminds me of Savage 2 and not only because of the close third person perspective. Now, since after a decade of existence, AoS games finally became "a thing" a few years back with Demigod, Heroes of Newerth and League of Legends, the genre is gradually becoming standardized. Read: uncreative, entrenched and littered with carbon-copies trying to leech some customers off each other. Aside from its third-person close-locked camera gimmick, Smite is in many ways an even more dumbed-down version of the AoS concept than its competitors.

It's lent a very "savage" feel by a similar attempt to transfer the fast-paced reactive twitch-gaming of arcade fighting titles (Mortal Kombat, etc.) to online multiplayer. While the idealized AoS concept revolves around team strategy, it's suffered from a constant push to narrow the focus down to individual self-aggrandizement, to remove strategic elements (both in terms of map objectives like resource acquisition and individual choice in money spending) and pare everything down to an idiotic slapfest.

Despite its 3D perspective, Smite remains painfully two-dimensional. There is no z-axis. All your movement, abilities and all effects take place on the x-y plane. "Jump" abilities are a status effect and not actual motion.
There are no targeted abilities. Great marketing tool for leet-kiddies since you can tout "skill" in hitting line-of-fire attacks... which would be great as a basic assumption into which to also fit a bit of target lock, but except for a couple of "ultimate" auto-targeting skills, everything you do in Smite resolves to either a line attack or a ground attack. Granted this is largely a necessary evil of its FPS ambitions but it falls short of Savage 2, which though it used a true FPS basis for its gameplay managed to also address the necessity for smartcasting certain abilities thrugh crowds of players, like, say, healing for instance.
You cannot build a hybrid character in Smite. While most similar projects have wrestled with the issue of ability versus autoattack damage (most notably DotA with its "beat up the nerds" caster-stomping gameplay) Smite offers you no room to experiment. If you are a caster, you can only buy caster items. If you are a hitter you can only buy physical damage items.

Overall, Smite has clearly been designed for the idiotic fast-fingers, slow-brain e-sports crowd. Gameplay is petty, limited, devoid of any options which might confuse the leet-kiddies. Combining the worst of both RTS and FPS, your interaction is circumscribed by your choice in team role while your abilities follow the "shoot, shoot and shoot some more" FPS routine. You are not meant to think. You are meant to make yourself liked by following the "meta" and being in the know as to what "rocks" or "sux" in the current patch - and gods help you if you ever deviate from the accepted behavior pattern! Oh emm gee, u bought item xyz? OMG OMG it sux u sux OMG everybody surrender naow this guy sux!

Computer gamers have always had to absorb the constant accusation of childishness, and for the most part it's a bullshit slam by outsiders looking to score some "maturity" points. In this case, however, Smite has quite obviously gone out of its way to secure a mid-teens male audience. You run through the game's tutorial as probably the easiest-to-play character, Neith, who LaraCrofts her way around the map in a bikini and exaggerated swagger that would put most strippers to shame. This is her victory dance (apparently ignored by the religious crackpots who chose to complain about Kali being "sexualized") and let's not even get into Aphrodite...

Between this marketing scheme and the strategic limitations, Smite's community devolves to a high-school clique mentality. You do what the group wants you to do, regardless of whether it's helping all of you or not. If you step out of line, you become the scapegoat. Now, this is actually a step up from say, League of Legends, where the mentality tended to revolve around kindergarden-ish foot-stomping to make teammates give you what you wanted, but it's still a far cry from a fulfilling team experience.

So what about the goods? Smite is actually an expertly made product. The comparison to Savage 2 extends to the very fluid and engaging gameplay. Though lacking depth and scope, each match simply flows through intuitive movements, abilities and objectives, and in this Smite truly has recaptured the charm of fighting games. By abandoning most pretense of complexity, it's become a truer representation of a "MOBA" than many others which cling to a RTS facade while delivering nothing more strategic than Street Fighter. It's not what AoS should be, by any stretch, but it's quite expertly focused on its true goal and audience.

Which audience, might I add, I would gladly subtract from the human species. If you want to find some real teams, Smite ain't the place for that. If, however, you want to get called a "noob" by cliquish, degenerate, cowardly, parasitic excuses for pack hunters legitimizing their incompetence by adhering to the hero-worship of some mouthbreather they watch religiously on twitch-tv, there's no better place for it than Smite.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Developing Viral Meme Herd Immunity

"Your god is dead and no-one cares
If there is a Hell, I'll see you there."

Nine Inch Nails - Heresy

I considered titling this post something more straightforward like "Fuck Mohammed!" but then the real point of opposition might be lost. It's true that of the "big boy" superstitious mind-wipers Islam is currently the most directly violent and therefore has become the poster child of destructive indoctrination but as Islamic apologists are quick to point out, Christianity too once basked in its glory days of lavish appropriated wealth, children's crusades and torturing infidels to death.
Tibetan Buddhism looks cute and cuddly now thanks largely to one of the most charismatic, crowd-pleasing public figures to grace the otherwise Scroogely ranks of religious leadership, but this is an identity recently assumed under duress. Tossed out of their fiefdom by an even more oppressive (and more relevantly, larger and heavily-armed) dictatorship, the monks learned to play nice to gain acceptance abroad.
Hinduism and its offshoots never has been able to reconcile ahimsa with the pornographic glorification of self-mutilation. If you make them to it to themselves it's not really harm you see - don't stop hitting yourself!
The less said about religiously justified slavery over the centuries, the better.

So let's face it, the core issue here ain't tha musul-men comin' ta getcha. Yeah, there's a lot of Koran-thumpers torturing random people to death for fun these days but if it weren't that, it'd be the wrath of archangels Gabe and Mike or the will of lord Vishnu or Amaterasu getting her panties in a bunch or some other delusional crap based on misinterpretable-by-design scriptures. It's the idiocy of faith itself, of blind belief, of induced gullibility and morality by authority which needs to be stamped out like the primitive neurological disease it is. Judeo-Christian indoctrination never stopped being a violent, abusive, sadistic, totalitarian mind-fuck. It was secular western society which changed around its older doctrine, forcing it to step back its social control apparatus in order to stay in business. The problem is that the job was left half-finished. Not only are we seeing the ghost of God, in Nietzsche's terms, wandering our streets in the guise of new-age "spiritualism" or alien abduction cults or T.V. shows about haunted houses or homeopathy, but in misinterpreting liberalism as spinelessness we've been knuckling under to the remaining superstitious parasites in every way we can.

I've commented before on being unable to use certain names in LotRO. More recently, I've been entertaining myself swearing like a drunken sailor at the little snots in Smite (after getting perma-banned for that sort of thing from two previous AoS games) so I ran across this tidbit from Smite's early days. Hindu leaders threw a tantrum over the inclusion of various Hindu gods as playable characters - because of course, you see, Agni is different from every other tri-millennial sacrifice fetish and nothing to joke about. Now, given that their playerbase, like that of most game companies, includes precious few Hindus, the developers more or less blew a raspberry at this and refused to remove the characters but slapped some extra bangles and a clothier loin-cloth on Kali to shut the fundies up.
Yeah, fat chance of shutting fundies up. But see, that's sort of a problem. I can complain until I'm blue in the face that I find Athena's portrayal farcical and her boob-plate ridiculous and that a literary personification of wisdom deserves better treatment... as a self-declared intellectual... and nobody will give a fuck. But if some babbling sheep start bleating "it's against my religion" we're suppose to give, what, several fucks at the very least?
Downright apocalyptic. Declaring oneself perfectly irrational garners greater credibility than admitting to being imperfectly rational. Actually believing primitive dogma is real gains you control over media output. Being a thoughtful student of mythology arguing the correct literary interpretation of fictional constructs gets you called a nerd and your head shoved into the toilet.

Or shot off. Following the most recent murders motivated by drawings of Mohammed, I have to agree with my least-favorite of the four horsemen that the only appropriate media response would have been solidarity in the face of censorship. Re-print the cartoon. Plaster it over every single television station. Of course that's not what happened but what can you expect? We're talking about the same mass-media which asphyxiates us with Christmas and Easter content every damn year and holds priests and ministers up as serious commentators. If they took a stand on this they might at some point be challenged to admit that Mohammed is no less divine than Jesus and both are every bit as divine as you or me. Treating Kali as a fictional fabrication like any other is all well and good, but if you want to show me you've grown some cojones, you take on the elephant in your own room. Make Yahweh a playable character. Let me play the virgin Mary in a bikini and a wimple slapping other gods with rosary beads. Give me Abraham tossing a tied-up Isaac around like ammunition. Granted, Judeo-Christian myths are lamentably dull material compared to others, but I'm sure we could work something out.

You can't really depend on mass-media for this. The media in a capitalist society are a construct of their consumer base. The push toward rationalism is not a legal or political matter. It must come first as social change carried out on an interpersonal level. Here it is all of us who know better who are at fault. Every time you've played nice and nodded along with someone talking about the supernatural as if it were real, every time you've faked a prayer to please your friends and family, you've been encouraging this bullshit. The core issue with religion isn't that it's violent or restrictive but that it's anti-rational. Not just irrational but actively counter-intelligent, pushing individuals to forego their own capacity for reason in favor of blind belief. No matter how benign you believe the superstitions around you are, in encouraging them you are reducing the potential of sentience. Religion promotes gullibility, which is why it's been such a favorite control method of various power structures throughout history. A child's faith in its mother blends seamlessly into belief that the priest's words come from mother Mary and messianic babbling primes populations for blind faith in five-year-plans and glorious conquests.

It doesn't matter if you're one of the four horsemen or some other university professor or an engineer who knows it doesn't take angels to make pipes flow or just an unemployed bum who doesn't buy into that bullshit. You have a duty to yourself as a thinking being not to go along with irrationality. You don't have to be out on a street corner with a placard. I'm not going to be. But if you believe in that nonsense, I will tell you it's nonsense. You are suffering from a neurological disease, a viral meme which reduces your intellectual capacity by making you subservient to the pushers of that dogma. We can cooperate in other ways, but this will never change unless you can produce your deity to speak for itself.

Declaring irrationality does not entitle anyone to any pedestals. There is no appropriate response to religion but to denounce it along with every other type of superstition or irrationality. That it affects certain individuals makes them pitiable, but the true danger lies in propagation. Those of you who know better have to stop playing nice, have to stop taking the comfortable route of appeasement. Do not allow such idiocy into schools, into your personal relationships or into public discourse. Become the stopgap, the much-needed firebreak.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Account Ability

"Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life!"
- Arthur Miller, The Crucible

For the low-low price of eight dollars, you can change your online game name. Never mind what game. Maybe in the one you're playing right now it's just five or maybe it's twenty-five bucks. The question of course is "why should you" and game developers are quick to offer rationalizations. In the Planetside 2 interpretation, maybe you picked a name like "Pinkie" and you're just worried you don't sound macho enough. Now, to me it seems the ideal solution would be to team up with some other player named "Brain" and try to take over the world, but maybe I'm just too much a child of the nineties. The question remains why this should be worth eight dollars. I mean, for the price of enough calories to keep yourself alive for a week in real life, I should assume the issue is not merely stylistic. I still have game characters using my old name of Werewolfe instead of Werwolfe and I've never felt the slightest inclination to pay money for the privilege of changing that. I doubt some leet-dood named "B4d4$$" is going to pay just to switch to "B4D4$$" or to give up on spelling his name all in caps and nums because... I dunno, he's found Geebus or something.

Note the absence of this "feature" from single-player games. It's also no big deal in regular FPS games where you hop among a thousand different random servers. In MMOs and small competitive games where customers have a good chance of meeting each other again and having to depend on each other, wiping the slate clean becomes a salable commodity. Ah-ha! Now we're on to something. Somehow, being part of a larger community makes people want to change identities every so often. Could it be that once you've won the respect and trust of your fellow players through various acts of justice and glory, once you've built a sterling reputation, you'll one day just wake up and demand the privilege of paying eight bucks for a new nametag?

Heh. No. Name changes represent only another form of legitimized cheating. It's the cheaters, the hackers, the griefers and run-of-the-mill dead weight who want to escape the repercussions for their actions. All the knuckledragging, airheaded genetic scum you've promised yourself you'd never spend another minute with, that's who demands server transfers, name changes and a horde of alts, one to grief and troll you in every corner of the game world. Most of the population, I've found, is composed of were-weasels.

Interestingly, accountability and integrity fall in the lonesome no-man's-land at the middle of the divide between games and reality. Nobody really wants to think about this.
On one hand you've got the idiocy of characters using the player's real name (e.g. BobIsAwesome the level 15 fighter) or "alternate reality" content or even guilds demanding your real name and place of residence when you join (expecting you to be part of their "family") any and all of which is inexcusable. A game is a world in itself. Ideally, meatspace would hold no sway over the matrix.
On the other hand we get the even more moronic-erer catchphrase "it's just a game" which every morally incapable little snot has learned to spout believing it absolves him of any guilt. Certainly the above condition works in reverse. Just as meatspace should have no impact on virtuality, so virtuality should not affect reality. The escape from reality should be complete. Playing Grog the mighty pillaging barbarian should not cost you your job as Greg the mild-mannered mail clerk. It should, however, be stamped on your damn forehead in-game so everyone knows you're a sadistic parasitic prick and can treat you (Grog) as such. Yes, it's just a game. Then isn't your bad reputation "just a game" as well? In a persistent world, the persistence of your destructive actions persists, and so should the record of those actions. If no-one else should mind your sabotage, stealing, leeching and other griefing, why do you mind their minding? So nobody likes you. So you cant get any teams, you're getting spawn-camped by your previous victims and everyone's demanding you get permabanned. So wut, amirite? Cm'on, dood. It's just a game. Why you so salty?

Anonymity is crucial, but only as a wall between the shithole of a world we seek to escape and the escape itself. It should never be allowed to become an escape from one's own actions, and though it's difficult to ensure this, forcing players to adopt one stable identity would go a long way. If Grog suddenly decides being unable to get a team because hes a known griefer kinda, you know, sucks an' stuff, there is no excuse for allowing him to simply switch to his alt Grieg the minstrel with a sterling reputation. No excuse, but apparently a decent bit of profit. Sure it wrecks the game world by letting worthless little cretins get away from the backlash for all their stupidity but hey... it's eight or twenty-five bucks extra in an executive's pocket.

Humanity, on or offline, is composed mostly of sniveling little weasels. The blacklist is much more important than the friend list. Reward those who own up to their actions. Value those who will not sign themselves to lies. And don't even bother pretending that's not the "real" you, Grog. If you can't act ethically in a computer game, you sure as hell aren't doing it when something real is actually at stake. Who you are when it's "just a game" is who you are. People don't change and neither should their permanent records.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

My Ding-a-Lacking

Don't you love articles like this one? It's sort of icing on the cake that "women's health" encompasses chipping and clipping away at the men around them to taste. One must keep one's property presentable, naturally. Or unnaturally, as the case may be. What's a little skin, right? It's not even a whole pound of flesh. More than half of women prefer their men mutilated. It's aesthetics. You cahn't fight fahshion, dahling.

So maybe I should come up with my own lengthy list of feeble arguments and rebuttals to plead the case of the foreskin to the female half of the population. Ooooh, I've got one:
What makes you think you should have any say whatsoever in the matter you egomaniacal petty sadists?

We have human rights activists crying crocodile tears over the much less common female form of genital mutilation, with the emphasis always on the "female" while cheerfully forgetting to look down their own pants. Oh shit! When'd that happen? Keep in mind only one of those maps is zoomed all the way out.

Hell, even dogs get more sympathy for their aesthetic butchery than men do, and I'm pretty sure most men would rather give up their ear-lobes than... you know. The other lobe. Then again, who gives a shit about men? We all know society was built around men's abuse of women, as the charts above indicate. We all know men are a bunch of vicious, sadistic bastards. Men deserve to be butchered.

Lemme ask ya sumtin', you healthy, cosmopolitan modern ladies. What does it say about you that you find men surgically altered to receive less pleasure aesthetically pleasing?

Saturday, February 14, 2015


"In the past-talking present tense
Gonna break it gonna wreck it gonna try to make it all make sense.
Stasis is what you got
Like a rickshaw getting pulled around by another rickshaw."

Modest Mouse - Steam Engenius

I miss Narbonic. Luckily I don't have to miss it too much since its spin-off, Skin Horse, is arguably more accomplished. Yet there was something delightfully free and freeing about the older comic which the newer doesn't quite grasp even in its goofier moments. Ah, well. I suppose I'm only repeating what I've said about being a SciFi / Fantasy fan, about reading George Martin books before he went "pop" and listening to Amanda Palmer back when she was a Dresden Doll. I miss the underground days. Ou sont les neiges d'antan?

Narbonic started in 2000. At least half of us still used 56k modems. AOL was still mass-mailing CDs to people's houses. The superhero movie revival hadn't started yet. The Matrix had only been released the previous year. A Lord of the Rings adaptation was still only a beautiful rumor. Webcomics tended to be written by computer nerds and gamers more often than by artists. The few artists desperate enough to slap some drawings online in the hope of a few tips were most often fresh art-school graduates who found themselves unhireable in a post-tech-bubble contracting economy.

So Narbonic was not a very professional endeavor. Like many of the early webcomics, it was much less a Machiavellian attempt to capture an audience and wring money out of it than an expression of nerd culture. It built on a realization which nerds all tend to reach while growing up: that we identify with the villains in comic-books at least as often as with the heroes, that human culture at large views intellect as villainous. Combine that with the knowledge that to be an individual you really do have to be a little bit crazy, plus a fascination with Science! with a capital "!" and you get a hilarious re-examination of the mad scientist trope, a slapstick "Grendel" for the James Bond decades.

And lo, they did come! Though most webcartoonists learned quickly to sell their audience the illusion of participation by occasionally publishing fan submissions, Narbonic differed in that some of these were actually worthwhile. Benefiting from a few truly creative fans instead of simply a faceless mass of consumers, it frequently featured collections much more varied and detailed than simple "guest art" : limericks, palindrome poetry, short fiction, you name it. To her credit, the author never allowed these to displace the comic itself, but combined with her own charming digressions from plot (re-imagining the cast as Victorian adventurers, for instance) they lent Narbonic that feel of a nerdy counterculture outcry which typified our (largely imagined) idealized version of the earlier Internet.

However, it stands as more than just a product of its times. As a comic, its charming antiheroes play out, in addition to the giddy horseplay of the scientist off his leash, also the self-destructive "mad" side of mad genius. While it never dives into outright drama and manages to retain a relatively light touch (the term "Cerebus Syndrome" I believe was coined sometime during Narbonic's six-year run and everyone got very self-conscious about it) it gradually becomes clear that lacking a self-control mechanism or three has its downsides. Slowly, tentatively, circuitously, Narbonic transitioned into a character-driven tale of mutual support. Half of crackpot intellectuals' inter-relations, as it turns out, is just keeping each other sane as best they can.

"Both halves are the better half
Like a joke trying to make another joke laugh."

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Planetside 2: Half-Cliche, Half-Iconoclast

Something very strange is happening with Planetside 2. It's improving.
Now wait, hear me out. Normally by this stage in an online game's lifespan, it should be hitting its "timesink" expansion pack. Developers toss one of these hings out onto the market and for little bit at the start seem to be trying to make it playable. Gradually, players begin to lose interest, and instead of upping the ante by trying to fix whatever's wrong with their product and recapture their audience, developers tend to play the numbers game. They cut their losses. They try to wring as much money as they can out of the few customers they have left while investing as little as possible in what has become to them a high-risk, low-confidence proposition.

The Shadow Shard, Moria, the Silithis faction-farm, Venetian Scenarios, etc. all fit into a greater trend. When you expand an online game, you do so with recycled content, perfunctorily re-skinned monsters and most importantly, timesinks, timesinks timesinks. A year or two into things, your customers by now have realized what you as a developer knew all along: your product is crap. This is not the time to try to save your reputation, to over-re-think things. It's time to double down. Double down on crap. Don't complicate the game experience by removing the bugs and imbalances players have gotten so comfortable exploiting. Don't confuse and scare them with mechanics which do a better job of challenging them. Just recycle some content to keep them subscribing just a few... more... months. A few hundred hours of zombie-farming should do it. Preferably, bundle it as an expansion pack to wring another $10-30 out of your die-hard fanboys (by definition not discerning customers) and hope they'll drag their friends into buying it, exploit those social contracts.

If this kills the game, then so be it. Hell, the biggest pay-off is a big initial release anyway. The subscription reward per work-hour investment tapers off after that anyhow, so screw it. Gut the development team down to a skeleton crew and move on to other projects. The first expansion is not actually meant to expand the product, but just to wring the dwindling reserves of blood from customers you've hyped into gullibly becoming emotionally invested enough in your tripe so as to buy blindly. It's not meant to keep them interested - just busy. If the product survives after that, fine, if not, fine too.

Now, Planetside 2 being entirely PvP, it sort of lacks the cheap expedient of re-skinning some mobs, placing hundreds of them on floating islands and keeping players busy with a "kill 1000 of these" achievement. This is not to say they couldn't still have followed the pattern. They could have constantly released new, more powerful "must-have" versions of existing weapons to keep players subscribing a few months longer, left the existing three continents intact and cut-and-pasted existing elements into a fourth one for the Hossin expansion. Ta-daaa! Money!

And they didn't. It's weird. They didn't just treat post-release content as a low-confidence investment. The one thing almost no company does is seriously address its existing gameplay issues, yet the patches following the Hossin expansion seem to have been characterized more by changes to existing mechanics and content than simply slapping on a bit of extra spending incentives for die-hard suckers. Oh, sure, there's quite a bit of that going around, lots of flashy new gimmicks in the cash shop, but new utility has surprisingly been limited to one new vehicle and a couple of new guns. To a surprising extent they've concerned themselves with improvements to existing terrain layouts, weapon mechanics, spawning and battle-line flow patterns... stuff that's not immediately justifiable by a pay-off estimate per man-hour in a power-point slide to impress investors. It's even making some steps in breaching the third dimension with vertically-oriented bases and smartly-placed cliffs and walls. Sony seems to be in it for the long haul. Which of course they did say they were from the start, but hell... you'd have to be a complete idiot to trust anything a game developer promises.

Here's a funny story. I had an old handy-cam. I'd lost some connectors for it so a few years ago I fished around an electronics store and found the technology for most of what I was missing was the equivalent of zip-disks for computers. Abandoned technological paths. The salesman just shrugged and said "yeah, it's Sony, they do weird stuff like that."
Planetside 2 is being developed slowly, rationally, even intelligently. It's no artistic masterpiece. Instead of a true scifi setting, it's disgustingly army-centered in all its aesthetics or lack thereof, banking on drawing in all the brainless Zero Dark Thirty fans who want to drive around in tanks and spew phonetic alphabet just like big-boy soldier-types. It is doing nothing to advance game concepts. Its combat mechanics and gameplay options are pathetically unimaginative even by FPS standards. Yet in treating their product not as a get-rich-quick scam to be gambled on and abandoned when the marks catch on but as a continual investment whose quality must be continually improved, it's kinda putting the industry's fly-by-nite attitude to shame. It's weird stuff. This is not the way you're supposed to be acting, you jackasses! Quit proving me wrong!

You know what's even weirder, though? It's actually working. Oh, sure, the player population dwindled somewhat after the first few months and PS2 condensed a few servers, but by and large it's succeeded in actually improving its playerbase. By increasingly putting the emphasis on large faction-wide events and cooperative advantages, it's been slowly selecting for a better type of gamer. Well, relatively. There are still plenty of attention-whoring little snots about who spam music and broadcast their every emotion over voice chat but more and more it has become possible to get into squads which actually want to play the game for its own sake, which simply cooperate toward greater goals without fuss or flamboyance.

Last year I was derided while giving commands over voice chat. "Is our platoon leader Alan Rickman?" one of my underlings commented. Now, I'd love to think he was referencing any of Rickman's wonderful performances in Perfume, Sweeney Todd, Dogma or Galaxy Quest, but given that I was drawling direct orders like "Bravo squad to Chimney Rock" without further embellishments in a bored, bitter monotone, I'm pretty sure they just resented being led into combat by Professor Snape.
Coming back to the game now, I find a lot more people are Snaping it up. Perhaps not quite dripping with my disdain for human life, but conversation tends to be much more to the point, less about insecure bragging or validation-seeking and simply about enjoying the game itself. Players are more aware of the big picture, less obsessed with farming their individual characters for achievements. Those who prefer that sort of idiocy can find it represented much better in WoW-clones. Simply by making the game playable as a faction war, PS2 is gradually building up a core following not of blindly fanboy-ish trend-hoppers but more and more of sedate, interested old-school gamers. Yes, things haven't completely tipped in that direction yet, but still, the gradual change is fascinating to note.
This is in an FPS game, mind you. So much for roleplayer conceit. I'll gladly take PS2's current playerbase over TSW's, not to mention WoW-clones.

Planetside 2 will never be as interesting as more imaginative games, but it is growing into the more grandiose replacement for the humdrum routine of online FPS represented by Counterstrike or Call of Duty. It is angling to become the new reference point for FPS games and maybe even MMOs, and given how seriously it's been developed so far, it might just happen. Calmly... coolly... entirely without incident.


Saturday, February 7, 2015


Back in the early half of the 20th century, science fiction had gotten so ludicrous as to defy ridicule. In the age of space operas and planetary romances, the genre degenerated from Wells and Verne's imaginative but sober speculations to Burroughs' reprehensible Barsoom series of puritanical guilty pleasures, and SciFi in all its pulpy goodness was relegated to the sphere of what we'd now call "young adult" fiction, devoured feverishly by thirteen-year-old boys who would later disavow all knowledge of such ouvres. Decades would go by in this fashion. The trend's greatest aftershock carrying over into modern culture is the persistence of Star Wars as the chief SciFi reference point among pop culture at large.

So, while starting with the '50s (the Heinlein/Asimov/Clarke/etc. generation) the genre has gradually been regaining some legitimacy, it yet exists in a greater social climate which pigeonholes it as cheap sensationalism. Even younglings were raised by past generations who thought "fire lazorz pew-pew" was all there is to SF. This is a subculture which has by necessity grown into a healthy, self-conscious aptitude for thoughtful self-parody. Whether through Adams' Hitchhiker books or Futurama, we fans are duly reminded that we tread ankle-deep through pulp, and by and large we appreciate that occasional well-meaning slap to the face.

Paul, once you get past the appeal of dick jokes, addresses the relatively narrow niche audience within the convention-going, fanfic-writing, toy-collecting crowd possessing the introspection to actually consider its place in the greater social sphere. It's more of a parody of parody, an attack not only on the juvenile aspects of fandom but on the mundanes which denigrate it. It plays on SciFi's appeal to the thirteen-year-old boy in us for cheap laughs ("three tits... that's awesome!") but also serves as a reminder of Science Fiction's role in expanding minds. The protagonists may be doofy jokers but nonetheless are also scientifically-minded, progressive, rational individuals. Their contrast to backwoods simpletons is not only a constant source of cheap gags and necessary dramatic tension but the most memorable part of the story.

Very few movies dare to portray religion in anything but glowing terms, yet Paul so unabashedly and un-subtly elevates a character from repressive dogma to independent thought that it's no wonder it left much of its audience feeling a vague discomfort at having watched it. It leaves no room for argument as to the superior position of rational individualism: enlightenment is a worthy goal even if achieved by ridiculous means. Neither did it play to other politically correct tropes. Birds are a source of nutrition. Self-analysis is dignified. The main female character is not a superior being civilizing the lowly brutish males, but an individual with her own problems and faults. It is okay to crush the wicked witch beneath a flying house.

The flick does get slightly predictable at times, while other times it very successfully plays off predictability for comedic effect. Cut-and-dry dramatic moments get truncated by a "get over yourself" attitude and when you see who the big villain is, the alien's antagonist, you'll have to agree it makes perfect sense. By the end though, Paul mocks the scarcity of respectability of its genre. The superficial fans, the authors who despise their readers, the paucity of creativity, the sometimes dangerous lack of balance, all color science fiction's role as springboard from obfuscating mundanity to an interest in and understanding of the wonders of scientific reality.

No, Paul is not the best written, edited or original movie out there, but within its niche it serves its purpose wonderfully.