Friday, December 29, 2017

Aristotle on the topic of computer gaming

"Decision, then, is apparently voluntary, but not the same as the voluntary, which extends more widely. For children and the other animals share in voluntary action, but not in decision; and the actions we do on the spur of the moment are said to be voluntary, but not in accord with decision."

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book 3, Chapter 2, Terence Irwin translation

We are not one species, and our entertainment reflects this. Intellect constructs and chooses meaning. Intellect seeks choice, choose-your-own adventures, divergent plays upon accepted norms, the novel and outre, unacceptable creativity. The vermin on the other hand want action, pulse-pounding white noise. As computer games were steamrolled by the mass-market over the past couple of decades, one sure sign of defeat was the predominance of praise like "fast-paced" or "action-packed" for new titles, and especially the forgotten use of the word "twitch" as an insult. The majority of the market do not function as intelligent individuals. They do not process information. They react to stimuli in the basest animalistic fashion.

They see a shiny pixelated dress and never stop to wonder why their character would wear it. They want bigger guns and bigger monsters, never understanding that 2/3 and 4/6 and 6/9 and 6,000,000/9,000,000 all equal retard. They want faster leveling along the endless treadmill of status symbols never understanding that 20/infinity and 200/infinity both equal sub-sapient scum. After all, it makes them feel like they're doing something. The difference between trash and individuals is that between doing and planning.

It is not enough for games to offer voluntary participation, for the player's hand to move the action. I am not the thing with hands but the thing which thinks. Achievement lists, carrots and sticks are for lower animals. Aristotle launched into that discussion on decision and deliberation as prerequisites for ethical capacity, for rational thought. Carrot-chasing belongs to the animals and children, the mentally infirm, the intellectually incapable, those incapable of governing themselves, and when presented with a game requiring decision-making, most "gamers" will affirm themselves such. Their primitive excuses for brains stammer and halt like Buridan's ass. Worthwhile minds, those capable of discerning quality, will among other things demand decision-making, and it is those (very) few gamers whose advice matters. If you want a good FPS, look for the one the turn-based strategy gamers like.

If a game offers you no more choice, no more repercussions and agency than what comes on the spur of the moment, if it forces you to live or die by no more than twitch, it is treating you like sub-rational vermin.

(Which, statistically speaking, you probably are.)

P.S. And thanks to you assholes who let this post sit here for over a week without telling me about the typo in Nicomachean.

Monday, December 25, 2017


What do you want me to tell you? That you've commercialized Christmas? Fuck it. Do you yet doubt that the true Christmas spirit was itself ever anything else than the commercialization of guilt, forgiveness, familial codependence and the emotional manipulation which comes with all that? Play nice for two days a year to wash off the stink of all the throats you've cut and the backs you've stabbed until then? You are rats praising incense-waving, robed terriers. The baby Geebus is a confidence artist asking for your credit card number.

Your morality is dross, and even the risque fall-back morality you claim to sacrifice for social cooperation amounts to no more than primitive apes pulling faces. A shallow pantomime of erudition. Am I supposed to praise you for knowing what "Saturnalia" is while you worship a chimney-humping Coca-Cola ad? You are feeding a lie. Nothing else matters. You are promoting falsehood, every time you sigh at a decorated tree, every time you say "Yes, Virginia" and every time you celebrate a day like any other to reinforce a primitive hierarchy of social control.

You are promoting a "big lie" and no amount of pennies dropped into a bucket to wash your sins will ever wash away your dishonesty.

You are vermin.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

As long as I get to hurt people and not just dance around at the equinox

Lo 'tis the solstice to be jowly... or something. Give me a break, I've been an athetist since fifth grade. Christmas tunes are just earplug advertisements to me.

But hey, it's the 21st of December, meaning the day has (sadly) ceased decreasing in length and that horrible blond bully, the sun, will once again be stalking more and more of our waking hours. Unlike arbitrarily celebrating putative birthdays of putative stars of the bronze-age hermit circuit (like Jesus) the solstice is a verifiable cosmic event, a parabolic axial cha-cha with a dip every six months. You don't want to know what snow represents in that metaphor.

But hey, I already did this rant back in 2012 so let's skip to the part where I hate seasonal content in computer games... except I already did that rant later in 2012. I also stated that players in persistent worlds should be more in touch with those divinities they're tapping for spells-per-day, and that an in-game calendar could easily replace the inane grind of daily quests or log-in rewards to encourage players to keep logging in day after day.

For now, just assume the ideal of a consequential in-game calendar for an MMO, completely independent of "real"-world timekeeping, as games should be escapist fantasies and that includes escaping from choking holiday cheer. Consider how close MMOs actually are to that ideal, to the point where its lack becomes obvious recalcitrant, retrenched, reactionary electronic primitivism and not any sort of justifiable difficulty in implementation. Any MMO can already be assumed to display a "game time" clock and a diurnal cycle graphically. The sun rolls across the sky, the shadows lengthen, windowpanes flicker yellow inside all those quaint little NPC dwellings. You flip your hovertank's headlights on.

How much more difficult  would it be to link other, more practical daily events to this cycle? In the simplest terms, adjust monster spawns by the in-game clock. Owlbears respawn faster at night, treants respawn faster during the day. Take it a step further and alter spawn locations so that owlbear and treant populations succeed each other across nights and days in the same area. Sure, Warcraft 3 made a big fuss (with little consequence) fifteen years ago about giving units nocturnal abilities but whatever happened to the logical implementation of such features into the next step up from team multiplayer games: MMOs?

How much more difficult would it be to count these half-hour ersatz days and track their accumulation through an in-game calendar? Plenty of status effects are already applied to all characters within a given zone or during a particular in-game event. Why don't we have "winter" or "autumn" status effects which affect the effectiveness or access to various magic, or fuel consumption for our hovertanks? Why can't I as a druid drown my enemies in the spring thaw?

How much more difficult could it be for mobs to... get mobile, with the seasons, shifting across the landscape, migrating to warmer climes for the winter or switching into different life stages? Why not fill valleys with owlbear eggs in the spring, owlbear cubs in the summer, ravenously growing owlbears in the autumn and hibernating owlbears in their dens in the winter? How hard could it be to lengthen and shorten days and nights as the virtual year wears on? Why shouldn't darkness spells be strongest or weakest at the winter and summer solstices, respectively? Why shouldn't No Man's Sky -like "extreme night-time temperatures" freeze your science fictiony hovertank on Hoth like it did the Germans' tanks in Russia? And why shouldn't this danger increase as nights grow longer?

All this would greatly enrich persistent online worlds (and small isolated examples do exist) while requiring little to no extra character models or interface improvements or special effects or... Or jobs for parasitic code-monkeys afraid to render themselves obsolete, who would much rather justify their existence by churning out expansion after expansion of completely dull, static content than breathe life into their creations to grow and move with the tides and seasons.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

There's something so inherently appealing about falling to one's death. I mean, alright, the noose or a firearm carry a heavier symbolism of intent to kill within human cultures. At least you're really getting your point across. Using household items like razor blades or pills will just prompt everyone to assume you attempted a pathetic cry for attention - and, of course, failed. You failed at failing to kill yourself. Blowing the top of your skull off is more decisive, so I guess the NRA's good for something after all.

Jumping combines the best of both worlds. Sure, tall enough skyscrapers or cliffs are hard to come by in most places, but if you dive off an impressive enough pedestal, everyone logically knows you don't expect to have your stomach pumped or your wrists stitched back together. On the other hand it can trick human instinct. Our primate brains can't completely force us to avoid high ground or we'd never have survived fifty million years of arboreal ancestry. Walk to the edge as though you're just going to have a look and... slip. Close my eyes and tilt a bit. Let gravity do all the work.

And, as symbolism goes, the values inherent in high and low outstrip the more civilized gallows or firing squad by several lobes of the brain. To drop is to embrace one's rightful place below, to renounce whatever altitude you've unrightly claimed in your mad simian scrabble for status.

It's so hard not to think ahead, though, to force one foot ahead of the other without letting your fears see the end.

Friday, December 15, 2017

ST:TNG - The Human Conviction

In an effort to relive my early teens, I am re-watching old episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It is both better and worse than I remembered it, as was my youth most likely.

Seriesdate: 3.13
Deja Q

That episode where Q orders ten chocolate sundaes and Guinan stabs him with a fork.
As I've said, I've never much liked Q. If the holodeck was eventually integrated somewhat coherently into Star Trek's universe (or as coherent as anything's on Star Trek) I doubt Q ever was, even in the series after TNG. A science fiction story has little room for a Rumpelstiltskin monopolizing the action with non-sequitur nose-twitching and finger wiggling. Everything Q does stretches so far out of bounds as to make his antics utterly irrelevant. He's a walking deus ex machina, and sure enough everything he does is either superfluous or has to be put back exactly the way it was to end the story. Q strewed gaping black holes in TNG's already loose continuity, and even the episodes featuring him couldn't be reconciled.

Here, Q gets mortalized by the other Q as punishment for being an asshole to less advanced sentients. Except this was the same Q continuum which approved the deification of Riker for no apparent reason in the season 1 episode "Hide and Q" so there goes that hope for consistency. Of course nobody even mentions Riker's little flirtation with Q-dom for these entire 45 minutes. Nor does anyone think to take advantage of having Q as a prisoner to ask him to trade some Q-level information about the universe in exchange for sanctuary while he's vulnerable. Start with "hey, remember that all-devouring cyBorg swarm you fed us to and which you hinted is about to annihilate us? Please elaborate."

Strangely, while the overall plot is crap, the minute-by-minute interactions in Deja Q definitely entertain, thanks largely to some very tight, snappily penned one-liners, usually with Worf as straight man.
Q: "What must I do to convince you people?" [of being mortal]
Worf: "Die."
Q: "Oh, very clever, Worf. Eat any good books lately?"
Worf: "Be quiet! Or disappear back where you came from."
Q: "I can't disappear. Any more than you could win a beauty contest."
Worf: "You have fooled us too often, Q."
Q: "Oh, perspicacity incarnate. Please, don't feel compelled now to tell me the story of the boy who cried 'Worf'."
Q: "Jean-Luc, wait!" Tries to run after the captain only to be zapped back by his cell's force-field. "This is getting on my nerves - now that I have them."
Crusher: "- he has classic back trauma. Muscle spasms."
Q: "I've been under a lot of pressure lately. Family problems."
Q: "What're you looking at?"
Data: "I was considering the possibility that you are telling the truth. That you really are human."
Q: "It's the ghastly truth, Mr. Data. I can now stub my toe with the best of them."
Data: "An irony. It means that you have achieved in disgrace what I have always aspired to be."

That last one's crucial, addressing one of the core flaws not only of Star Trek but of SF as a genre: unduly flattering the audience via anthropocentrism. Humanity is a hive of mindless vermin. We know it. Look around you. The mere words "president Trump" should prove that most humans are incapable of handling any thought more advanced than pointed sticks and loincloths. In order to advance, humans must transcend humanity, must become inhuman. Such beings capable of functioning amidst a world of teleporters, matter replication and weapons which can kill without leaving a trace would necessarily seem as inhuman to us as we awkwardly tall, poetic, polite, flabby nebbish sitting in front of glowy buzzing square rocks all day would have seemed to our meter-tall nomadic mammoth-hunting ancestors.

Yet every SciFi hero's always an all-too-human plains-ape wanting nothing more than to enslave itself to its codependent reproductive and social instincts. Even among the great SF writers, few attempt to create posthuman heroes. Frank Herbert toyed with the idea in the form of Leto II, god-emperor-worm of the universe, but his mentality remains human overall. The Pandora novels edge a bit farther. Martin's Haviland Tuf drifts pleasantly farther from the human norm, as do many of Clarke's short stories like The Wire Continuum or A Meeting With Medusa.

Overall though, pulp SF reinforces the status quo, and here Star Trek's vaunted utopianism falls hopelessly into the mainstream. Even the godlike super-beings on Star Trek spend all their time masquerading as monkeys. Though this is largely explained by cheaply inserting actors where expensive special effects might be warranted (especially in eras when special effects meant cardboard and flashlights) it doesn't explain these superior beings' abysmally low aspirations, on par with a human wanting to live in an anthill.

Q should have broken out of that pattern with his misanthropic rhetoric, a superbeing cursed with filthy humanity as a cruel and unusual punishment. Instead the last third of Deja Q stumbles into a trite little snoozefest tale of redemption. The Enterprise resolves the B-plot about a planet about to get mooned to death by... getting nothing much done until Q nose-twitches everything right. With Zeus having descended, invalidated the entire preceding 45 minutes and departed, we return to business as usual.


Seriesdate: 3.16
The Offspring

That episode where Data births a 1950s department store mannequin.
He kicks off its education by calling that lazy, uninspired abstraction on the wall "artistry" which should immediately disqualify him as a parent. Then again, his attempt to qualify as a parent and classify the new droid as a child is basically everything wrong with this episode.

Humans are vermin. We are at best a bridge and not an end, as Nietzsche put it, and to reiterate one of my past rants, our only value lies in creating some sort of intellect free of the slavery of biological imperatives, of limbic, endocrine and other such systems of oppression. Data is a superior being and his quest for humanity makes absolutely no sense, even less so for centering on attempting to inflict himself with the disgusting mammalian manipulative apparatus termed "emotion."

Worse yet that two superior beings should waste their time aping our inane congenital prison, the family unit. Again, on a line-by-line basis, the episode progresses quite well from intrigue through humor, conflict and finally tragedy. The common trope of an innocent unveiling the human condition serves Star Trek's writers almost as well as it did Robert Heinlein in Stranger in a Strange Land (read it!) and I dare you not to chuckle at lines like "he is biting that female!" or:

Wesley: "Data, she can learn a lot by being with children her own age."
Data: "She is only two weeks old."

- or not to sigh a bit at the corny, overextended yet still touching scene of Lal's demise, successfully exploiting the audience's protective instincts:

"Thank you for my life. Flirting... laughter... painting... family... female... human..."

But there's that "female human" bullshit again, and I must now amusingly argue from the opposite political angle in which I found myself not even a month ago, railing against the self-aggrandizing snowflakes trying to impose personalized pronouns on the rest of the culture. The current political trend of solipsism has gravely damaged Western society, no less so when it comes in the form of denying biological reality by facetiously demanding that others address you as whatever sex you imagine yourself. Most of the moronic, whiny scum setting themselves up as moral guardians are either insane, or more likely just attention whores playing the martyr for fun and profit.

I said "most" because I cannot exclude the possibility of cases in which the designation of male or female truly would not apply, so I can't help but condemn Lal's first task: gender assignment.

Lal: "And I am gender: neuter. Inadequate."
Data: "That is why you must choose a gender, Lal. To complete your appearance."

Yeeeesh. The snowflakes must be steaming over that line, and for once I agree. Unlike our contemporaries claiming to be precious, unique categories unto themselves just because they's feelin' it, Lal is objectively, verifiably non-binary. Well... ok, technically it's entirely binary, but you get my drift. Robots don't do Xes and Ys. Forcing a being which is above such things to choose an inferior biological designation is outright criminal. "Gender: neuter" is not inadequate. If would likely constitute a state superior to the pattern of enslavement and betrayal which defines gender relations for the human ape.

You just don't get to pretend you've reached nirvana simply because you say so when you're obviously still just rotting meat. When you get reincarnated as an immortal, unemotional, superintelligent mechanoid like Data, then we'll talk.


Humans are vermin, and anti-intellectualism is their detritus.
When superior beings come up in science fiction, it should be as rightful successors, improvements on our bestial stupidity. Star Trek failed in this as almost all SF does by pandering to its audience's undeserved conceit, painting our simian status quo as a desirable state. For all the show's been held up as a main reference point of Utopianism, a truly advanced society would either be rid or be dedicated to ridding itself of its shameful plains-ape sequelae.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Fitted hat day

"- whose custom it was
To take a daily stroll dressed
In silk gowns like a fashionable lady.
In this he failed. Miserably."

Rasputina - Utopian Society

Once upon a time I sold a funny hat to another player in Team Fortress 2 for fifty dollars. Not that I'd recommend it as an income opportunity (and I dumped the money back into Steam soon enough... think it's what paid for my copy of Skyrim) but when I saw the prices people were paying for such status symbols I was compelled to verify their marketability. And we are talking about pure status symbols, make no mistake. It's not like it was Oddjob's bowler hat from Goldfinger or shot laser-beams or summoned chupacabras or anything. It was a purely cosmetic item. Inasmuch as TF2 lacks environmental hazards, it didn't even keep your head warm.

And someone paid fifty bucks for that piece of shit. Piece of  -imaginary- shit! Skyrim goes for what, about $40? How many pieces of headgear does Skyrim include? How many hours of entertainment can $50 buy you during a GoG sale? Entire series of classic games go for less. Sir, You Are Being Hunted rates $20 and look! Funny hats!

Nor am I immune to such stupidity by any means. My LotRO character owns a cloak of the mountain wolves, plus a dwarf property guard and I forget what other cosmetic doodad bought in a moment of weakness. About ten dollars all told for a stumpy axeholder and a... a... ok, I can't say anything bad about the cloak, I love the cloak

Look, it's got wolves!

... but if you asked me now, I wouldn't pay $3 for it or however much it cost in amusement park money. Heap big buyer's remorse. In other games it's alternate character skins or a novelty horn sounding the "ride of the valkyries" for my airship in Planetside 2. I don't even have a peer group over which to lord this pixelated junk, and I'm still falling for it. Our idiotic species is so dependent on social domination that even sour old misanthropes like me will, in fits of madness, pay through the nose for sumptuary lawfulness.

So I won't waste any more time trying to demonstrate that microtransactions have completely taken over online games. Assume the scam works.

Developers (and their ass-kissing clientele) will often self-justify by claiming to restrict themselves to cosmetics, and not selling competitive edges. Most of the time you'll find they're still selling "quality of life" automation for in-game chores, which still amounts to a paid advantage. Nonetheless, that talk must be talked. Legitimized cheating has got to go. However, regardless of whether it's filled with weapons or funny hats, the cash store still hurts games.

Last year I voiced some reticence vis-a-vis Shroud of the Avatar and its on/off-line gameplay compromise. A couple of days ago I tried giving it a second look and was immediately put off instead by faceplanting right in its cash shop. Hundreds upon hundreds of items ranging up in price to hundreds upon hundreds of dollars attempt to tempt intemperate empty heads. And this, mind you, is for a game that's not even officially "out" yet but in "early access" whatever that means in the age of years-long open beta tests. What exactly am I supposed to be buying here? The right to buy more in-game items? When you don't even have a game yet?

The Secret World was revamped this summer in hopes of dragging players back into the endless mindless grindfest... by resetting the dials on the treadmill and making them run the grind all over again. In fact, the new version has even less content than the old. Plus, TSW Legends was hilariously bugged and managed somehow to dumb down an already broken skill system.
About the only thing that increased was the number of cosmetic items in TSW's cash shop.
Sure there's nothing to do but farm the same precisely scripted mission hundreds of times over, but at least you'll be doing that nothing while wearing a fitted hat in the color of your choice. About 30 U.S. cents a piece by my estimate. Oh, there's one for every occasion, collect them all!

TSW has more (gameplay) issues than it has (storyline) issues, from half-assed PvP and raid systems to a tortured skill system uninteresting for either PvP or PvE, to balance and la-a-ag and more bugs than an ant farm - some of which have gone unaddressed since its 2011 launch. Yet instead of improving or even fixing their product, Funcom has sunk year after year of their customers' subscription money into lengthening timesinks and adding more items to the cash shop. And of course the more you're invested in that racket, the less and less of actual product you create or have to offer. When you give any money to an online game developer these days, this is what you're funding: funny hats. And at a hundred dollars per toy house on the internets prairie, them's some freakin' macro microtransactions.

I mean, Shroud of the Avatar's system might be even funnier if I'm reading it correctly, as it seems cash shop purchases are only necessary for the online half of the game. So you're not even paying to see that item on your character. You're paying for the explicit privilege of showing off that item in public? How much of a diva can you possibly be?

Either way, the financial incentive for companies to continue churning out meaningless status symbols as "content" completely undermines the necessary focus on the game underneath that fluff. Not that it's entirely surprising. As I remarked a couple of years ago, most developers are not in the business of creating products but of engineering sinecures for themselves. Those Joneses won't keep up with themselves. You always need new status symbols to one-up the old ones, new stages on which to buy a center spot.

Thus, online games have degenerated from contests of wits and wills and been paved over with sickly, garish fashion runways on which preening and prancing imbeciles attempt to shame each other with their latest designer blue slaad jeans.

In case you didn't get the title, it's from Seinfeld.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

No End

Oh, look, it's "Glee" with zombies.

Let me set the scene for you: it's the year whateverumpteen C.E., and some worldwide catastrophe has inexplicably turned most of the world's population into zombies... and even more inexplicably has turned the remaining humans all homosexual. Much as I hate the notion of Sharknado, "gay plague" seems a solid contender for the lamest idea for a disaster movie. Or webcomic.

*Siiiiigh* okay, okay, let's give it its due. It's decent enough. Nice, clean, polished, unpretentious visual style, distinctive characters, dialogue that sounds neither stilted nor overly-slung, plus I'm diggin' the ancient Greek mythology nomenclature for towns - given my bases in a strategy game are currently named Nyctimus, Lerna, Nereus, Arachne and Cornucopia. Also, I'm only joking about the zombie plague turning survivors gay. In fact No End does a great job of not trying to justify itself or explain the joke, lightly implying explanation and exposition, head and shoulders above the hamfisted approach of Eth's Skin and its like. There are people lusting after each others' hot asses in a frozen wasteland and said posteriors just happen to be of the same sex. Cheers. Now let's shoot some zombies. Actually, No End's biggest flaw has little to do with its cast's sexual orientation and more with the weak balance between relevant action/intrigue and tedious, codependent, interpersonal claptrap. That much shoujo-quality gut-spilling really gets in the way of... y'know, literal gut-spilling.

That, and its big, stunning, shocking, flabbergasting, thunderous dramatic reveal foreshadowed chapter after chapter for most of the story was just painfully obvious from the very moment the character in question was introduced.

Still, as one road warrior after another turns out to be like, totes gayballs, it starts wearing thin. You set out cheering for it the first time, "shipping" the cute shy boys, then nodding along approvingly the second time, then rolling your eyes a little the third time, then skimming impatiently when the pattern keeps repeating. There's suspension of disbelief and then there's bullshit. Necessary concessions to storytelling don't extend to simply ignoring logic and the laws of nature. As with the nonsensical overabundance of warrior women in newer computer games, a valid need to acknowledge exceptions to the rule overshoots its mark into insulting political propaganda which only harms the setting's verisimilitude.

The vast majority of  a sexually reproducing species will logically be attracted primarily to the opposite sex, regardless of occasional bouts of grab-ass in the showers. That attraction makes reproduction more likely, makes that genetic predisposition more prevalent in the next generation, and the next, and the next, etc. It's not a moral stance, nor a point of pride. It just is. It's reality, and reality is not optional!

If you want to cancel out that natural principle for the purposes of your story, then you really will have to come up with a homoplague or gayfluenza to explain why your humans are not acting human. It'll have to be a heapin' big pile of pretextium crystals too, to explain:
- how your population didn't retrench in conservative primal values when threatened, as human societies are wont to do
- how your authoritarian regimes are not restricting their subjects to procreative sex to out-breed each other, as such regimes do
- how the population hasn't dwindled to nothing generation after generation
- how musical theatre can survive a stiff-limbed, groaning, shuffling zombie apocalypse
and other such paradoxes.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Once upon a time, I saw a C-series monster movie box on a video store shelf and declared it a stunning new cultural low.
Now there are five Sharknado movies!
Why are there five Sharknado movies? The material resting in that concept would barely fuel a single drunken anecdote, much less a movie... much less a second one... much less a WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU MORONS?!?

Gah! Whyyyyyyyy?

I hate this retarded species!

Monday, December 4, 2017

What the Game Engine Gave Me

"Time it took us
To where the water was

'Cause she's a cruel mistress
And a bargain must be made"

Florence and the Machine - What the Water Gave Me

Gradually over the past year or so I've gone back and finished my old Infinity Engine game playthroughs by diving into their expansion packs: Baldur's Gate 2's Throne of Bhaal and Heart of Winter for Icewind Dale, along with their respective dungeons Watcher's Keep and Trials of the Luremaster. Logically I should be blasting the remaining past via Icewind Dale 2 but by this point I've had it up to here with the Infinity Engine's awkward, primitive, inconsistent pathfinding, distance measurements, AI and so forth. (You can't tell, but I'm holding my hand waaaay up.)

I'm also prompted to re-iterate my annoyance at old gamers' misplaced nostalgia and young hipsters' facetious adulation of older games, given the many quality-of-life improvements in RPGs which the IE games themselves largely prompted. Any slog through Baldur's Gate or Icewind Dale is doubled in length by sheer tedium.
Forcing the player to sit through the same loading screens or dialogues twenty times over every time he reloads gets old fast, gets old fast, gets old fast, gets old fast.
Having to pick up a character's inventory bit by bit every time he dies. Or she. Given my predilection for jock-free parties, I put Jaheira on the front line and thus punctuated every other fight by having her pick her teeth and internal organs back up out of the dirt.
Dropping players straight into ambushes every time they walk through a doorway is quite possibly the stupidest mechanic to overuse. Especially when summoned creatures can't walk through doors. And it was over-used. Over, over, over-overused.
Then there are mechanics which sound nifty on paper but were turned into grating abject nuisances by the aforementioned engine limitations, like dragons' wing buffet or level draining (and the requisite re-stocking of your characters' spell slots one by one.)
Don't get me started on every single monster later in the Baldur's Gate series being given nigh-complete immunity to magic.

Still, the old IE games deserve their reputation as a critical milestone and still have much to teach. For one thing, story-driven RPGs more or less mandate large-scale expansion packs and not piecemeal DLCs. Even skimping on storyline, writing, voice acting is noticeable in these old expansions, as it was in Dragon Age's cheaply made Awakening expansion. The branching webs of player choice must have material and room to unfold, whether in terms of role-playing choices or building up one's character or party composition. It's not like level design in FPS or strategy games, where you can just throw some new challenges at the player. Watcher's Keep and Trials of the Luremaster are large enough to make good adventures in themselves (and contain rather more interesting fights than the main campaigns) but they strike a dissonant chord within the larger story. TotL especially breaks up Icewind Dale's otherwise remarkable thematic coherence.

Snowy landscapes, cold-themed monsters, a Burial Isle... I'm starting to see how much the makers of Pillars of Eternity built on (their own?) nostalgia for Icewind Dale specifically out of the old IE titles. Too rarely do themes remain consistent in computer games as a whole, more glaringly in RPGs. Developers strive too hard to give each player something to love. Not every game needs lava flows and icy mountaintops, and druid circles defending nature and inner-city gang warfare, and "1001 Nights" themed desert adventures with riddling djinni and medieval olde Englishe nobility ranks and court (and/or courtroom) intrigue and vampires and werewolves and demons and zombies and goblins and pirates and ninjas all at the same time. Some diversity's necessary but not every game needs to be the Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny. It's one point where both Neverwinter Nights games went quite wrong and Skyrim went quite right, and where PoE's White March expansion recovered the more focused approach of Icewind Dale and Planescape: Torment.

Pillars of Eternity was fairly dilute overall and understandably so. It needed to establish the intellectual property and acquaint fans with it, benefiting from no preceding decades of tabletop dungeon-delving like the Forgotten Realms did in the '90s. The White March, on the other hand, could more freely launch itself into a story about two specific deities introduced in PoE's pantheon, and it was only in replaying the game that I realized just how well most of the details tied into the Abydon / Ondra aesthetic. Even one of your new companions is a forge-born monstrosity, and another a disciple of The Great Below. Side-quests in the ambitious little mining town of Stalwart subtly reflect the celestial power struggle behind the scenes.
I'm only now realizing how poignantly the Abydon / Ondra dichotomy must affect the game's own developers. PoE itself represents a conflict between continued building up of classic cRPG architecture and the necessary forgetting of past achievements to make room for the new. See my "Ubergamer Attrition" post from last week.

Pillars of Eternity's very name hints at hoping to become a foundation for something lasting, and that may stand as the most important lesson of the Infinity Engine. Around that basic, generic D&D medievalism introduced in Baldur's Gate grew adventure after adventure, each with its own personality, each a roleplaying campaign in itself with its own strategic, artistic and narrative themes... for better or worse. Stop trying to reinvent the wheel with a new game engine every year, keep something functional and pleasing enough to last through the next decade and begin churning out themed roleplaying campaigns set in the same cosmology like The White March or Icewind Dale before it. Maybe Pillars of Eternity 2 will take its cue from that and deliver a swashbuckling high seas adventure without worrying too much about what the Glanfathans are doing or Magran's machinations.

Maybe after that they'll do a desert. Maybe a high-flying Hylea-centered adventure flitting from peak to peak among colorful Alpine villages in the Vailian Republics? Maybe a seedy, low-key "mean streets" Skaenite adventure in the slums of a great empire reminiscent of Torment's trash warrens? Why the hell not? Take it one campaign, one theme at a time. It may be wishful thinking on my part, but PoE's flavor-texted companion side quests suggest the developers themselves have plenty of ideas they'd like to get a chance to develop... to be played, and built upon, and forgotten in due time.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

shklee can go shkluck shklimshklelf

"Even old New York was once New Amsterdam
Why they changed it I can't say
(People just liked it better that way)"

The Four Lads - Istanbul (not Constantinople)

Well, I guess it's time to admit the webcomic Questionable Content's gone the way of Sinfest, give it a rest for a year or so then see if the author's come to his senses. Don't bet on it. Too much money to be made by pandering to snowflake idiocy.

Sure, QC was always susceptible to various politically correct yuppie posturing but it used to at least manage to dress it up a bit, give its characters a more varied inner life than trying to paint themselves rainbow. Gradually, however, straight characters were either dropped from the storyline rotation or given homosexual / transexual / robosexual love interests. New characters are dropping in by the barrel-full, each a two-dimensional piece of click-bait for anyone seeking validation through shallow group identity. Jacques' formerly diverse roster of tricks has diminished to constantly playing the identity politics card, churning out character after character to pander to some incarnation of the eternal snowflake cry for attention. Sorry, when you start busting out that personalized pronouns crap, we're done.

You don't get to redefine reality, you megalomaniacal insects. Dictating changes in existing language is not "liberal" politics by any sane definition of the word, and the left wing has been utterly subverted over the past few decades by these pompous little scheisters preaching O'Brien's lines from 1984 with the most unselfconscious innocence. Newspeak, thought crimes and hate campaigns against imaginary oppressors have all become core elements of "Left"-wing propaganda to almost as large an extent as they've always been tools of the Right.

Personalized pronouns will be particularly annoying to anyone who used to hope for true freedom from gender roles. I'm a man. I'm not manly. Never have been, never will be, never intend to be. I rarely drink alcohol, own no guns, scoff at sports and drive a cheap little Honda Civic as rarely as I can. Women despise me. I couldn't grow chest hair if you replaced my sternum with a Chia Pet. Despite being sexually attracted to women, I especially resent the assumption that I should play the expected male role, that I should want to don a wedding shackle and spend the rest of my days slaving away to bring home the bacon for some bitch and her litter. Yet I am still male, and born into a sexually dimorphic species. A casual verbal division between male and female grows naturally out of objective reality. It's not an imposition by any sort of imaginary authority.

I fail at being male, at being a "he" and that should mean nothing. True freedom should mean that nobody tries to find my exact position on the continuum between "I'm a lumberjack" and "I'm okay" - that calling me "he" tells you nothing much about my particular deviations from the norm, not that I get to act like a delicate little flower who'll get bruised by a pronoun. Excluding the less than 1% combined incidence of sex chromosome aneuploidy and other relevant genetic or developmental oddities, the words "he" and "she" simply represent the human condition. It is a basic truth inscribed on every replicated genome in your body, tens of trillions of times over, continually re-affirmed every time your cells divide, from conception to death. You were male/female before you were even arguably human.
It is an acknowledgement of the very real evolutionary history of the human ape, and reality is not fucking optional you pathetic, self-important, preening Victorian fops!

To pretend otherwise (and especially to attempt to enforce such arbitrary fabrications) is sheer grandiloquent superstition. It's not progress, it's not liberty, it's nothing but petty, self-serving authoritarianism and any rational mind should denounce it as such.

You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You are the same decaying organic matter as everything else.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Ubergamer Attrition

"I'm just trying to find a decent melody
A song that I can sing in my own company"

U2 - Stuck in a Moment

One of my first posts here back in 2012 ...

Was the Mayan Apocalypse really so long ago? Hey, remember that time the world ended? And all those other times? Remember that?

Anyway, one of my first blog posts concerned the death of the RTS / FPS hybrid game Savage 2 due to self-inflicted stupidity. Which is sad. For all its faults, Savage 2 out-did the rest of the game industry in most respects whether in 2008 or now, especially when it came to integrating ranged / melee combat plus RTS commander orders through the interface. Its legacy was a stillborn "resurrection" last year (scroll down to customer reviews demanding their money back) and an object lesson in post-launch mismanagement alongside Demigod.

By 2012, Savage 2 had already been dead for at least half a year. The original Savage came out in 2003. Here's a screenshot of that:
Yes, there are other players in that picture. It's taken a few days ago. Actually that's Savage XR, a continually updated player-modded version of the original, but that doesn't change the fact that unlike the second or third game in the series, it's still being played. Not by many people, sure. One server, five to ten people on each team that I could see the few times I logged in, and that's at peak hours. It's free and can run on cheap computers, so expect mostly teenagers from scattered second / third-world countries. Mostly.

Counter-Strike: Source claims nine thousand players this month on Steam's usage statistics, and that's just the baseline game unchanged since Y2K. The updated version, Global Offensive, has 152,000 players on at this very moment, at what can only be considered low tide. Let's not even get into the popularity of Starcraft, which I'm pretty sure is still South Korea's state religion.

Counterstrike was a good game for its time, a more detailed, more responsive improvement over Team Fortress Classic. For a few years around Y2K, game engines and net speeds had advanced just enough to make headshots fun but not enough for collision detection, reactive abilities or detailed, immersive environments, and Counterstrike's plain-Jane shoot-em-up routine really shone, made the most of the technology of its time. I have fond memories of it. Then one day the owner of my favorite server announced "goodbye CS server, hello NS server" and swapped to Natural Selection.

NS was more creative both in its aesthetics and combat mechanics. It offered more than CS could, especially since it was an RTS/FPS hybrid. In fact, when Savage first came out a year later, a few NS fans were outraged at what they perceived as theft of the hybrid game concept (never mind the Battlezone and Uprising games had already been out for years) and threatened to... I'm not sure what. Savage's developers just laughed in their faces, and welcomed those of us who switched over. So I played Savage, and it was smoother, bigger, slightly more balanced and with more bells and whistles than Natural Selection. Savage 2 improved on it, despite my complaints about aesthetics and legitimized cheating, not to mention the Maliken snafu, but players refused to move on. I've also complained that Natural Selection 2 was not a true sequel but a Source engine nostalgic reiteration of NS, yet a couple hundred players are still in it right now.

Looking back, I almost have to wonder what I personally must have done wrong to leave each game I visited sprinkled with so many players who refuse to abandon their safety blanket. I don't know what makes me so much more resilient to such stagnation. I'm not exactly a neophile, mind you. My computer's over eight years old (and has a few more in it) and I'm perfectly willing to grouse about how shitty most new games are and point out all the valuable concepts the game industry has thrown aside over the decades... like fairness, imagination and complexity. It's kind of my main "thing" here in my den. Still, inevitably, advancing technology offers new opportunities. Even as most concepts within a creative field decay, some mature and now and then something new coalesces.

Advancements keep cropping up, and more and more they're going unrecognized because the history of game design has exacted a terrible attrition among those who should be counted most discerning. The millions of cretins still playing Counterstrike or World of Warcraft don't worry me much. They're mass-market scum anyway. It's either that or Mario Kart. On the other hand, the couple hundred apiece still beating a dead horse called Savage or Natural Selection or Ultima Online or Neverwinter Nights are inflicting much more grievous harm on the worthwhile segments of the game industry. Without them, dumber players are lost in interesting games. A company can't attract the right customers to keep things interesting if those competent few are hiding their heads in the sands of yesteryear.

Sure, many of those players in Savage XR or Ultima Online or Neverwinter Nights' persistent worlds will turn out to be teenagers from some poor backwater extracting what use they can from a hand-me-down computer. A good portion in any such example, however, will consist of the game's old core: commanders, clan leaders and the modding community itself, those who once felt included and validated within that context and remained there, still chasing their old self-importance. The trend toward cozy redundancy certainly has parallels in other forms of entertainment. There are plenty of people who spend every night watching reruns of Cheers "where everybody knows your name" or have seen Casablanca 154 times, or who keep re-reading Pride and Prejudice every few months, thus evincing both qualities.

Something about an interactive medium amplifies the dependency, the separation anxiety. It's not only a matter of sensory experience, but deeply canalized personal agency, the satisfaction of picking at a familiar old scab with every click of the mouse.

I keep wondering why the demographics of computer games, especially online games, have shifted so decidedly toward the moronic over the past decades. The influx of mass-market consumers drowning out what used to be a niche market is the main issue, sure, along with the industry's catering to the vermin. Marketplace expansion has certainly also diluted the intelligent few. Still, some of the decline stems from the stagnation of those who insist on continuing to play their old MUDs into the new millennium, crotchety old thirty-somethings averting their eyes from the scary newfangled thingamabobs out there.

I have no idea why I'm not counted among them despite my rather pronounced nostalgic streak. Despite being very much "into" my favorite titles and playing them three or five times over, I then uninstall them and move on. I love Nine Inch Nails but I still skip it in Pandora in search of something else. Much as I was enthralled by Stranger in a Strange Land, there are other Jubal Harshaws to meet. I will re-watch all my favorite anime... at some point after I find new ones as points of comparison. There is so much of everything-else and much as I hate most of what I find, I can't help but keep looking. The perfect escapist fantasy must be out there somewhere. I'm just not willing to pretend I've found it.

"I am not afraid of anything in this world
There's nothing you can throw at me that I haven't already heard"

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Morbidity, Mortality & Marketability

Targeted advertising can be funny. Don't believe me?

You know how it works: you shop for a pair of headphones, Google latches on to your supposed preference and then spams you with thousands upon thousands of headphone offers... even though you've only got the one pair of ears.

Say that during one's more morbid flights of funsies one usually ends up, among other things, looking into some practical details of suicide methods including commercial availability and pricing of necessary comestibles, combustibles and other killamatics. Waking up after one such tedious re-affirmation of one's cowardice one might find a particular mode of mortification has immediately monopolized one's banner ad space, edging out car offers, movie previews, insurance deals, computer games and porn ads.

It will quite likely stay there. For months afterwards, your browser will continue to throw your night of despair back in your face... taunting you. It will offer you discount death, brand-name Death, off-brand death, competitively-priced death en gros. Day after day, week after week, it will continue reminding you that you can find death at bargain death prices at these satellite-mapped convenient death locations near death you death.

Look, all I'm saying is they're probably getting even less repeat business out of this than out of the headphones.
But hey, a sale's a sale. Always Be Closing.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

ST:TNG - Hollow Perspective

In an effort to relive my early teens, I am re-watching old episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It is both better and worse than I remembered it, as was my youth most likely.

Seriesdate: 3.14
A Matter of Perspective

It's Rashomon - in spaaaaaace!

Oh noes! Riker done a-'sploded a stereotypical old antisocial mad scientist after raping his wife. Except maybe he didn't. Except maybe he did. The only way to get at the truth is by making up diverging plausible stories in the holodeck.
I said it's the only way, damnit!

Sure we could follow the engineering crew subplot in the background concerning that weaponizable chandelier behind Mr. Wizard, but the real point of the episode is watching several different characters sitting around saying "computer, run program." Weirdly enough, it works. Yeah, you kinda know they cheaped out on sets, costumes and rehearsal and fed you three different takes of the same three scenes for most of the episode. You don't care, do you? There's a phaser, a chunky-style explosion, arguments about Federation legality, a fistfight and enough technobabble droning in the background to drown out your logic circuits.

Both episodes I'm discussing tonight manage to roll surprisingly gracefully through what could have been dull material if handled incorrectly, probably thanks largely to Cliff Bole's experience directing action series. Due to firm transitions and some decent writing for once, the holodeck finally finds its place aboard the Enterprise, no longer monopolizing plots or used for incongruous or extraneous period pieces but mediating the crew's interactions with the larger Star Trek universe. It's one of those cool-sounding futuristic technologies which keep elbowing each other for primacy on Star Trek, each one mind-bendingly overpowered under scrutiny: teleporting, synthesizing pork chops out of thin air, force fields, artificial gravity, Data, etc. When you see the laughably Tron-like graphics on control consoles on the bridge, you have to wonder why all information processing isn't simulated on the holodeck.

So anyway, yeah, spoiler alert: Riker didn't rape or murder anyone, which is probably just as well since Frakes, in all fairness, doesn't quite conjure up the same haunted wild-eyed menace on screen as Toshiro Mifune did. This being the main divergence (phasers and teleporters aside) from Kurosawa's classic, begs the question: why doesn't every mention of this episode begin with "in this Rashomon rip-off, our valiant space-samurai investigate" - ?


Seriesdate: 3.21
Hollow Pursuits

I know I usually start these off by a sardonic take on the episode, but for once the gravity of the subject at hand demands my most sober and tactful analysis. To delve into the somber realm of addictive escapism we witness the lurid holodeck fantasy life of one Reginald Barclay, and weep we must at his plight for there is nothing funny about grown men in puffy shirts and feathers in their caps boisterously mangling period jargon while measuring epees.
Okay, so maybe there's plenty funny about it.
Hi, Broccoli!
Dwight Schultz as Barclay
First off though, let's take a moment to acknowledge the half-assed casting/make-up job on the stunt double for Barclay's swordfights.
Work your way down from the pompadour. Not only was the double visibly younger but had the Jedi agility to match. The fight scenes look like Barclay keeps turning super-saiyan every five seconds. Anyhoo...

Hollow Pursuits may not be on everyone's list of top TNG installments but even at ten years old I felt an immediate kinship with Lt. Barclay the social anxiety basket-case who prefers to live imaginary lives. I suppose that might stem from me having grown up as one of those solidly introverted kids who fill entire notebooks with meticulously logged and detailed monsters, spaceships, castles, giant robots, imaginary expeditions and maps of Never-Neverland. That I would get into Star Trek in junior high seems only logical, captain, and there seems to have been some debate on whether Lt. Broccoli hit so close to home because the creative team knew their fans or because they actually were those fans. Trekkies are after all one of the prime lotophagous examples of the television age... but then again TNG's crew itself consisted to a surprising extent of Original Series Trek fans and embodied many of the characteristics of SF fans in general. See Michael Piller as quoted here:"It really was not intended directly at Star Trek fans. It was certainly about fantasy life versus reality. More than any other character in the three years I have been at Star Trek, the character of Barclay was more like me than anybody else."

Now as to my views on trekkies, see my commentary on Spock's death a couple of years ago. Escaping humanity in one way or another is vital to any mind peeking above the crass morass of dumbass comprising humanity, but need not involve surrendering one's dignity, much less intellectual integrity. Hollow Pursuits works as well as it does for maintaining a consistent sympathetic position vis-a-vis its otherworldly protagonist while nonetheless denouncing fixation. I don't agree with the insistence on dragging poor Reginald back to the "real" world by the scruff of his neck but still... when it stagnates, escapism loses its intellectual superiority.


I've said it before and I'll say it again: I don't like the holodeck. Unless it's a core concept, the notion of a game within a game or a movie within a movie comes across as a cheesy postmodern sophistic gamble writers pull out of their asses when they're low on funding and/or ideas. It breaks immersion more than it helps it and tended to monopolize TNG whenever it came up.

Still these two shows make quick work of the costumes and old-timey slang belabored in past episodes and instead manage a much better integration of this discordant element by focusing not on the holodeck itself but on how the Enterprise's crew uses said deck. How does such technology help or interfere with that seeking out of strange new worlds and new civilizations which is supposed to be the show's point? How does an unimaginably powerful interactive environment like that figure into the neuroses of what is for all intents and purposes a cabin-feverish submarine crew?

If you can get past the shallow novelty of dressing your characters in poofy skirts and fedoras, there's some storytelling value to be garnered by holo-decking. The Rashomon routine benefited from a medium within their universe onto which witnesses could project their subjective interpretations. The character interactions in Hollow Pursuits come across as much more natural than usual Star Trek fare, with all-too-human bickering, commiseration, concern for both efficiency and individual well-being. All the more so for the various crew members being juxtaposed with their cartoonishly goofy holodeck eidolons, which to be honest could fit perfectly into most of TNG's first- and second-season cesspit of bad writing.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Rape of the Lock

A quick explanation of the Weinstein effect, which is really just an extension of gender politics as usual in the human species:

If you deny a woman the inalienable right to use her sexuality as a weapon, you're a filthy slut-shamer, you sexist pig.

If, however, you are male and you've ever so much as raised an eyebrow in a woman's direction, regardless of how much she came on to you and led you on, you're a vicious criminal and a threat to society. She can come back at any time, whenever convenient to herself, even decades after the fact, and claim she was victimized. Then, based on her subjective interpretation (of acts which if she'd performed them herself would be laughed off as party antics or condescending favors) all of your friends, coworkers and various organs of the body politic will proceed to destroy your reputation, ruin you financially and ostracize you. That's if you're rich or lucky enough not to get thrown in prison as a rapist to be raped to death on a vindictive bitch's say-so.

Obviously, according to feminist doctrine, this exultant, unstoppable witch hunt, the willingness of the entire socioeconomic system to uncritically burn any man as soon as a woman points a finger at him, must somehow only be further proof of male power over women. 'Cuz ovaries... or some shit.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Terrible Law

"Don't take it away from me
I need someone to hold on to"

Nine Inch Nails - Terrible Lie

So's-I's-a'wuz-a-thinkens, I've never entirely liked the way the law/chaos axis has been handled in cRPGs and much of dis, like, dislike has to do with lying. Bad enough that chaotic or freedom-loving characters get painted as mere spazzy goofball comic relief or frequently insane. Need we heap further insult upon them by labeling them liars to boot?

After all, lying is in the real world more often than not the very mortar holding up any power hierarchy's foundations, in the form of a big lie, a blatantly false dogma which must be sustained by continual, unyielding, authoritarian falsehood. Religions give us the prime example. The very notion of the existence of the "super"-natural must be supported by constant, ritualistic repetition of the lie, in unchanging chapter and verse, to the point where not even the threat of truth but minor secondary embellishments of the big lie are apt to spawn pogroms, inquisitions and jihads. There's nothing at once as lawful and as dishonest as a mantra or catechism. Brainwashing. Capitalism, communism, primitivism, feminism, veganism and tribal identities of all stripes similarly depend on repeating, ad nauseam, their own particular big lies. Everything's always the fault of the (insert evil here): Jews, welfare queens, carnivores, bourgeoisie, white imperialism, technocracy, black imperialism, patriarchy, polka-dot-imperialism, etc.

Pick your poison and if it doesn't sound convincing, just keep repeating it until it drowns out dissent.

In fact, let's make a game of it. Literally. In the spirit of RPGs which allow you to play evil characters, create a game in which your roleplaying choices center on upholding a particular big lie. Fabricate fake news and fake statistics, bribe and smear and silence the opposition, subvert and divert rational criticism by emotional manipulation, monetize your true believers, feed unrelated scandals to shift scrutiny off yourself, foment moral panics, bury evidence, play the victim, play the people's champion, found entire institutions dedicated to legitimizing your propaganda in the eyes of the public. Base success on how consistently, how lawfully the player manages to uphold a blatant falsehood.

Most of the world's population is either already playing this game, or wishes they could. Someone should really cash in on it. If it plays in New York, it'll play in Neverwinter.

Thursday, November 16, 2017


Always up for some Sciencey-type Fiction whether in book, flick or comic form, I've been flipping through Galaxion's archive recently, so as to refine my already mighty eye-rolling powers. Call me a jaded old escapist but most of its foreshadowed plot twists seemed blatantly telegraphed even for its presumed intended audience of naive adolescent comic book store layabouts.

Well duh, of course the experimental hyperdrive is going to land them in an [redacted][redacted] and of course the [redacted] is going to be an alien and the survivors will be mingling with the [redacted] of world-wide [cockadoodle] and the accident must have been sabotage by one of the [redacted]s acting under a latent form of [red][acted] and eventually somebody's gonna probe that damn cat.

Okay, fine, maybe I've seen a few too many Twilight Zones and I'm a bit too familiar with Chekov's phaser by this point in my star cruising. While not fundamentally creative, Galaxion's still adequately paced and doesn't unduly belabor its revelations, walking that successful popular entertainment line between facile and engaging. Meh, worth a skim, I guess.

What really gets me is the ship's crew, and by that I mean it gets me wanting to open up all the airlocks and vacuum out some stupid. How do you make Captain James T. Kirk look, by comparison, like a realistic portrait of a professional, hard-bitten explorer? Replace him with a spacefaring version of the cast of Saved by the Bell. Which might be fine if Galaxion sold itself as a goofier, more fanciful tale, but not if you want to involve military ranks and life-or-death situations. This well-coiffed ditz with the heart pendant wouldn't inspire confidence in a kindergarden classroom, much less in the grim, barren, icy depths of space. Suits her fine since her crew all seems to hail from Planet Sunshine in the Star System Lollipops, grinning constantly like maniacs, never backbiting or shirking duties or trying to climb the ladder over each other's corpses or acting in any other way human.

The only character I find even remotely relatable's the one token unlikeable, surly, overly-formal crewman who never talks to anyone. He fits into SF. The rest of them, I don't know what infernal, saccharine kids' puppet show they emigrated from, but it's not the cold, impersonal genre of emotionless ideas.

Surprising, the ways in which an author can surprise us. While I can predict a chapter or so ahead of Galaxion's young adult version of fictional science, I can't for the life of me figure out which cast member will be filling which role. Who will be sacrificed, who will save the day, who will berate whom? They are spawned by a mind utterly alien to my own.

Oh, that human element.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Behold tha kratos o' dem !

"Let's admit America gets the celebrities we deserve
Let's stop saying 'don't quote me' because if no-one quotes you
You probably haven't said a thing worth saying

Ask not what you can do for your country
Ask what your country did to you"

KMFDM - Dogma

I was in my last year of high school back in 2000 when his most holy imbecility the child king Bush II was anointed to ruin the world to the best of Dick Cheney's abilities, so the whole embarrassing mess was etched rather painfully into my loopier, darker, soggier sulci. (For you young'uns, just ask your parents about "hanging chads" and see them roll their eyes.) Only... I didn't see the point of it. The whole slapfight over those few thousand Florida votes seemed like small potatoes to me. Forget the two thousand retards who might have voted Bush and worry about the whopping fifty million who really did vote for him. I repeatedly pointed out that regardless of who technically won the election, roughly half the country wanted to be mastered and commanded by a drooling, bumbling, illiterate oaf. Choke on that!

It was about a year ago that were were afflicted with the curse of President Trump, who makes "Bush with the IQ thereof" look like Pericles by comparison. Seeing the yuppie outcry over every single one of Trump's deliberately distracting media stunts, seeing the obsessive focus over this one media figurehead, I can't help but wonder how in a single generation we could have completely forgotten that most important lesson from the 2000 and 2004 elections. Stupidity is elected by stupidity. Nero and Caligula were pretty damn popular with the rabble initially as well. Donald Trump is the will and embodiment of the people.

That knuckledragging rabid baboon represents at least 63 million "people" plus all the ones who got too drunk on the way to even find the polls, plus most of the Democratic voters as well. Oh, yes. Those same Democrats loved him on "The Apprentice" after all. They love him as the embodiment of domineering profiteering. He represents their own chauvinistic sexism and racism, their greed, dishonesty, pettiness, laziness and ignorance. They just wouldn't vote for him because he was born the wrong sex and wasn't insulting the right evil skin color.

Forget Trump. Whether he finally gets impeached or not, whether Trump himself fades from the limelight, the Trump problem will not disappear and that problem is human nature itself. Look around you. Look at all the degenerate vermin who voted for Trump or would gladly have voted for him if he'd had a vagina: all the dudebros and soccer moms, all the valley girls and barflies, the rednecks and gangbangers and church-going mommas with their rodential litters in tow. That filth, that utter subsapient filth is the enemy. Normal human beings. The majority. Scum.

The People do not represent me. I am no longer of your kind. I am Werwolfe. A much wider gulf divides intellect from stupidity within the human race than the average human from a chimpanzee. Let's stop pretending we're all one species. The perennial, all-pervasive side project of every intelligent individual should be to extricate other intellects from the mindless glut of simian mediocrity. You've committed no crime to warrant such penance as subjecting yourself to the howling imbecility of the people. Stop trying to educate or change the majority, the vermin, the Trump wannabes. Just help the worthwhile few escape their grip. Abandon humanity.


Saturday, November 11, 2017


I can't think of a song tie-in for this one... maybe something from Tron?

I was debating whether even a screenshot's justifiable, given how little screen there is to shot. Yes, that's actual nail-biting interstellar fleet-on-fleet SciFi action right there, looking like the mere tactical minimap of most RTS games.

I'd added Spacecom to my GoG wishlist some time ago. Now that I've shilled out a whole dollar for it on sale, I do wish I'd bought it years ago at full price while it was still "popular" for whatever definition of popularity applies to a 2014 game with 1980s graphics. In contrast to the despicable "neo retro" trend in adventure games and platformers and the like over recent years, Spacecom manages to stand on its own merit instead of merely banking on suckering in a few hipsters and nostalgic 40-year-olds trying to recapture their 8-bit youth by buying anything pixelated.

Yes, it's a very limited game using a very old premise: conquer your way through a two-dimensional network. You've got:
-three types of nodes (solar systems) of various sizes, each capable of either producing your one resource, producing ships from that resource or repairing them.
-three types of ships, for fighting other ships, destroying solar systems or capturing them.
-three types of optional defenses for each system.

Yet from those simple elements plus various patterns of linking nodes and the always thorny element of time arises that same sort of surprising complexity found in classic abstract strategy games like chess or Go. Play offensively or defensively, tentatively or decisively, scorch earth, steal supplies, stall and reinforce. Spacecom's lack of immersion comes with a lack of interference as well; unpretentious and streamlined, the interface delivers everything you need at a glance, clearly and intuitively. Though I usually prefer broader, more freeform activities, I could see myself jumping online for a half-hour match now and then with some regularity, were it still being played.

Aye, there's the rub. This is obviously a multiplayer concept, and as it seems to have failed to build or maintain a critical mass of players, if you buy it now you'll be left pummeling the largely incompetent AI into submission until bored of its repetitive antics. For under ten dollars it's still worth it (especially as an example of clean, sober, focused, professional, no-frills game design) but I do slightly regret not having gotten in on Spacecom while the getting was good.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The British Lolcat Broadcasting Corporation

I typed "news" into my web browser and this popped up as my top interest-grabbing hit from BBC World News: "Little girl's stolen puppy returned by remorseful thieves" - and I swear to that idiotic primitive superstition the rest of you call "god" that when I visited BBC's site to grab the link for this post, the very next hit after it was "Australian jockey Caboche suspended for punching horse."

Flying Spaghetti Monster, give me strength.

You morons!
... Ok, I suppose that second story's so close to a literal "man bites dog" headline that journalists might feel tempted to play it up, but it's still not close enough. If he'd instead turned around backwards and kicked the horse, then I might be interested, and even then only as a one-liner. The real issue is that this bull horseshit popped up as "world" news. It's not. It's really, really not... None of us over here in the platypus-free world gives a crap what Australian jockeys do. Nobody in Estonia or Paraguay or Asshead, Arkansas has ever woken up with a burning desire to plumb the mysteries of ethical conduct among diminutive down-under horse-humpers. Trust me on this one.

But a story about a cute puppy? Is this seriously a BBC World News article or am I being trolled? Is this shit seriously being promoted front and center on the world stage while in a tiny sidebar wait tiny mentions of Trump visiting China to kiss the asses of the most prolific human rights offenders in the world? While news of rampant worldwide tax fraud hides meekly in the corner?

Yes, I know "Mittens the kitten" segments have been used to lampoon reporters for over a century, from at least the time of Mark Twain and Ambrose Bierce. I'm in my thirties and I've never known any news media, whether in print, radio, tv, internet, blimp, whatever, to actually deliver the sort of sober, factual and above all relevant reporting on which we should all be able to depend. However, it's gotten much worse.

For one thing, "Mittens the kitten" used to ridicule local small-town news segments, not international ones. For another, news media fluff pieces have only grown more ludicrous with the onset of the internet, because now the public can make its own fluff. We're self-fluffing! Anyone who wants to know about Australian jockeys can visit those jockeys' Facebook pages. You want editorials about vampire-themed role-playing video games or anime or comics or the ethics of sniping in online shooters? I provide those right here on this blog! If this is what it takes to convince you, I will go into Dwarf Fortress and somehow name one of my dwarves' pet kittens "Mittens" then have a kobold steal it. I can write that article, and these half-dozen chumps giving me hits on the blog will actually read it. Amazing! - and amazingly enough, it doesn't take a multibillion-dollar international investigative conglomerate to produce that story.

BBC News, of all things, used to at least maintain some dim pretense of respectability, bit o' the old stiff opper lip, wot? When did the BBC grow content with becoming a Monty Python parody of itself? Do you know why everyone stopped reading the news? Because you, all of you from Los Angeles to Moscow, stopped doing your jobs in the late 1800s. If I can replace you by typing "funny cat videos" into Youtube, you don't get to whine about the public's apathy or low sales. You do not deserve your jobs.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Paradise Posers

About the Paradise Papers:

Stop acting so shocked, you morons. The real problem isn't that all those fatcats cheated the system. It's that you seven billion pathetic sacks of simian filth already assumed they were cheating and you've always turned a blind eye and kept voting for them and kept investing in their stocks, because you want to be those fatcats.

Your own desire for power is the power of the rich. It makes absolutely no difference which families making a billion dollars a year might have cheated on their taxes. No-one has earned that large a slice of the world's resources. I don't give a fuck if they personally cured three kinds of cancer and teflon-coated all the pandas. Nobody makes that kind of money by honest means.

You know that and you still vote for them, and you still buy their stocks, because you want to keep the corrupt system, and profit from it. So shove your feigned outrage up your asses, all you idiotic rock star wannabes.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Furies vs. Furries

"They call me Superman
I'm here to rescue you"

Eminem - Superman

Dwarf Fortress features a ludicrously detailed list of possible combat actions and injuries. A battle report reads like the intersection of hammers and crossbow bolts with an entire anatomy textbook... plus vomiting and existential angst. Even if they're unarmed, your dwarves will gleefully engage the local wildlife in fisticuffs. Now, fantasy dwarves are a hardy folk by nature and your particular group is assumed to consist of rough-and-tumble pioneering types, so this may come as no surprise. It's a bit more jarring seeing a bloodthirsty troll tear its way through your garrison squad toward a visiting human noble's consort, presumably a pampered, hoity-toity "bit of stuff" damsel in distress... only for said pampered damsel to bite the troll and only after that grab her axe, float like a butterfly around the beast filleting it to near death then finish it off by lopping off half its freaking skull!
Daaaaamn. This chick's a keeper.

Now, Dwarf Fortress was built around dwarves, the fantasy race most notoriously lacking in sexual dimorphism, so thematically it's unsurprising to find bearded ladies acting much the same as bearded gents. Especially true since your stout little underlings are represented by very simple ideograms and text. No character models or voice acting, nothing to identify them as male or female in an intuitive sense anyway. It would actually take extra development time to differentiate them.

So, though it's technically guilty of the same crime, I'm less inclined to blame Dwarf Fortress' forced, one-sided, facetious re-balancing of the sexes on feminist dogma, as it obviously is in wealthier games. Like, say, The Elder Scrolls, for instance, where town guards and mercenaries are as often as not female, because everything boys can do girls can do better, so there! End. Of. Story. We're permitted to give the matter no more thought for fear of transgressing the dictates of the moral majority.

Actually, y'know what? Let's do some transgressin'.

That this decades-long trend is mere feminist propaganda, facetious glorification of women and not any sort of egalitarianism is easily verifiable by counting the villains and heroines in any game which forces female characters into masculine roles. Even the relatively daring and risque Pillars of Eternity, which toyed with the idea of negative female divinities and feminine crimes, kept these conveniently off-screen while pitting, front and center and in lavishly voice-acted groaning detail, a male villain versus two female martyrs, and that's just the tip of the iceberg.

It also goes without saying that while filling their rosters with amazons, such entertainment products will make no effort to lend male characters in return the moral high ground, the presumed innocence and entitlement reserved for women, but for now let's focus on the supposedly egalitarian even split between genders among soldiers, town guards and every other violent role in games.

Sounds good at first, I know. It seems a neat way of washing your hands of the question of sexism, while tacitly endorsing the socially acceptable brand of sexism, misandry. How can portraying the sexes as equal possibly be wrong?

Well, as it happens, Pillars of Eternity's poorer cousin, Tyranny, decided to get edgy about sexual roles. In addition to the aforementioned 50/50 split among hired thugs and thuggettes, it also featured an androgynous world dictator, a female-chauvinist-led society (naturally, they're the good guys) and a female-dominated anthropoid race. I've gushed before about how much I like Kills-in-Shadow and the rest of Tyranny's beastwomen. They actually work, conceptually, as female warriors, not perfectly but to a much greater extent than humans. Here, take a look at what came out of a beastwoman's brood-hole:
A litter! A litter of fast-growing, fully mobile cubs requiring less parental investment per unit and carrying a less absolute penalty if that investment should falter, thereby decreasing the evolutionary pressure toward nonstop mothering.

See, the main problem with the sick pretense that women might share equally in danger alongside men is that it's utter bullshit from an evolutionary perspective. Look up a term called neoteny, if you've never heard it, the retention of infantile physical or behavioral features into adulthood. Yes, human males are neotenized. Check even a standard burly, bearded lumberjack's face against an adult chimp's. We Homos are freaking adorable by comparison, thankyouverymuch! But anything males can dish out in the cuteness department pales in comparison to women. Smaller, less hairy, more babyish in their bone structure, giggling and cooing and crying in youthful high-pitched voices and artificially enlarging their eyes with make-up, human females have evolved to elicit levels of protectiveness normally reserved for the species' young - from each other, sure, but mostly from their tribe's males, the less-cute-by-comparison short end of the evolutionary stick. By default, human females don't fight their own battles as long as there's a male around to fight on their behalf, champion their cause.

In a species already dependent on social interaction, women go one better. Instead of evolving for personal ability in the physical world, femininity, in humans, has specialized in social manipulation, in extracting service from males. The male's role in the trinity of "-and baby makes three" is to get bled for everything he's got then thrown under the bus to protect his (presumed (often incorrectly)) genetic investment. The children of men who have accepted this sacrificial role have had a better chance at survival. The children of women who have successfully played on men's protectiveness have also had a better chance at survival. Their genetic material, their predispositions have passed on to us.

Most of this stems from the utterly debilitating effects of our very slow, prolonged gestation and infancy. Human foetuses and infants are needy little fuckers, not only in themselves but extending to their primary caregiver as well. Mothers have, for most of history and prehistory, simply not been in a position to fend for themselves. A less debilitating form of motherhood with a less absolute investment (redundant backup offspring) helps, and if you really want to create a race of warrior women, then you'd also likely be talking about a race with higher paternal than maternal parental investment. For that to hold true, males would have to be certain it's their sperm fertilizing a woman's eggs, as the prospect of cuckoldry puts a huge damper on the benefit of paternal investment.

So you'd likely be talking about a species of fish or amphibian-like egg-layers where the males care for the eggs and young, are smaller and cuter than females and less apt to travel, live longer and tend to put their mates through the wringer before deigning to fertilize their eggs, to ensure they're not stuck caring for sub-par material.

But to return to the example of Tyranny, you can also see how much more consistent Kills-in-Shadow is in her tough bitch nature compared to the much more poorly conceived and developed Verse. While initially presenting Verse as a sadistic, bloodthirsty cut-throat (and cut-everything-else) the game's writers simply couldn't resist also imbuing her with that all-too-girly vulnerability and pathos, yielding a downright schizophrenic characterization: a vicious killer whom you're expected to pity every time her voice acting suggests she's pouting or scared. Ooohh, my sisters, my poor sisters, boo-hoo, my poor sadistic sociopathic sisters.
-and the simple fact that most people will swallow such bullshit without a second thought speaks volumes as to the steel grip femininity holds on our communal psyche.

As a last note, human reproduction and infancy have not only shaped our evolution but have presented a very clear logistical problem for iron-fisted dictators throughout history. The upper classes need the lower classes to reproduce as much as possible, as quickly as possible. Women's most productive role from the point of view of the wealthy is in producing more cannon fodder, more wage slaves for the good of the only entity above the level of chromosomes which directly benefits from reproduction: the tribal unit or state. The few times women have been forced into dangerous work (e.g. factory work) has been during periods of rapid industrialization or when the male workforce is already depleted. Otherwise, keep safe and keep cranking out those crib-stuffers.
So it makes absolutely no sense for Tyranny's resident megalomaniac Kyros to disagree on this central tenet of empire-building with the likes of Hitler, Stalin, most all religions and the American Republican party. Overlord/lady Kyros, the immortal dictator waging constant centuries-long war on the rest of the world, the strategist thinking whole generations in advance, would in no logical way allow the use of women in combat. Not unless Kyros can conjure babies out of thin air. (I assume that brand of magic's sigils would take two hands to portray. [O<-<-)

Warrior women will occasionally arise in most human societies (and they can make excellent stand-alone characters in fiction) but they only make sense as exceptions to the rule, not replacing the blatantly obvious human norm of female self-preservation and the sacrifice of males in their stead. Actually making women carry their weight in dangerous, unhealthy or otherwise harmful enterprises never enters into the equation. At least not when you're talking about the human species, that species divided into a cute, seductive, self-serving, emotionally manipulative half and the other, male half: disposable, easily dismissed as unlikeable and expected to place itself in danger to profit the cute ones. If you want some other guiding principle, then you'll need to fabricate an alien species for which that principle would make sense. At the very least make them into bearded ladies.
(Or better yet, think up some humans, male and female, consciously attempting to transcend their biological limitations. Including innate male slavishness before female whims.)

'cause I can't be your Superman, can't be your Superman, your Supermaan, your Supermaaan...