Wednesday, May 31, 2017

You should have killed yourself when you were a teenager, when you still had the nerve, before your body's instinctive inertia overcame your better judgment. You knew then that you're trash, and you're worth even less now.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Sandra and Woo

"Come on and take it easy, come on and take it easy
Take it easy, take it easy"

The Beatles - Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey


"Girl with talking racoon" sounds like a pretty straightforward Calvin and Hobbes knock-off but Sandra and Woo has managed to avoid copying not only Watterson but pretty much anything and everything I've ever seen. Webcomics have aged. They've surrendered their creativity of two decades ago in favor of nailing down specific audiences and servicing them in return for a stable Patreon income. Sandra and Woo is one of the few to have remained fresh. It occasionally comments on video games without trying to copy Penny Arcade, ladles on the carnivory/herbivory jokes without falling into Kevin&Kell's repetitiveness, gets nerdy without XKCDing itself to death. It's a crypto-graphic, art historical, math puzzling, multilingual extravaganza with talking mustelids on top.

It's creative, if anyone remembers that term, and it's willing to take chances. The few times it gets political it does so in a conscious, free-thinking manner irreverent toward both traditionalism and current fads. While on rare occasions its humor does not translate very well, its sheer variety can blindside you. Despite its fantasy-themed goofiness, its characters' interactions manage to feel much more "real" by refusing to ignore mammalian nature to kow-tow to some ideology. And, while pandering much less than many of its competitors, it's still apparently doing well for itself. Maybe there's some hope for the internet yet.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Overly-Impulsive Cagey Demons

I recently started on my second playthrough of Torment:Tides of Numenera and took stock of which companions I had left to try. During my initial run I'd given a passing thought to the oddity of winding up with an all-girl posse (a pussy posse, if you will*) tanking for Matkina, Callistege and Rhin but hadn't given much consideration to the fact that I'd picked the entire female half of the cast while telling the three male mooks to take a hike without ever looking back. Weird, huh?

See, I hadn't actually set out to do this. I'd simply picked personalities after my own tastes: nerds and loners, savants and dark knights. I picked anyone dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge, possessed of a dark, brooding antiheroic backstory or who seemed to have great potential (and Rhin's late-game "cobbler" and "cypher adept" abilities turned out as overpowered as expected.) I chose self-possessed intellect.

I threw out anyone who was hinted to be a fanatic or a comic relief blowhard or standard backstabbing roguish gutter trash. Wouldn't you know it, that turned out to be all the male characters. But hey, no-one minds when writers do this to female characters, right? No-one's ever bitched out Frank Miller for his comics' high whore quotient, right? So it's not like we're working with a double standard or anything. Right? Granted, I've been told Avellone eventually turned Erritis into something memorable against all odds, but the observation stands.

Dignity: now a gendered term.



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*P.S.
Was going to demand royalties if anyone wants to use the term "pussy posse" as a band name, but apparently Leonardo DiCaprio already beat me to the term. Hollywood stars never sue anyone though, right?

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Evil Losers

By now everyone's heard the sky is blue. Also, the Earth is round. Also, rich people have power. Also, grass is green and objects at rest tend to remain at rest and obvious cat is obvious. Also, a Muslim murdered 22 people and maimed 59. I learned about this yesterday and was... not shocked. I heard more all about it this morning for two hours straight during a major network morning show, complete with our dearest prez Trump condemning the act with all the poise, wit and eloquence of a snot-dripping kindergardener shouting "doodyheads!" More interestingly, this network managed to go for two hours straight repeating the same news article without ever saying the word "religion" ... or the word "Islam" or "Muslim" or "fundamentalist" or "irrational" or "degenerate primitive superstitious mindless mass-deluded fanatical vermin."

And yes, I know it's not just Muslims. This is what religion does. When the priest says "kneel" you kneel; when the priest says "kill" you kill. Christians have their own outbursts of fanatical murder, as did Jews (and do again through the ongoing crime against humanity that is the theocratic-in-all-but-name state of Israel) and so have Buddhists and Hindus and druids and whatever. Yes, every supernatural creed will do this but at the moment we really need to acknowledge the main group of genocidal cultists murdering us. Seems like the more shit Muslims blow up, the more close-walled theocratic Muslim ghettos infect civilized cities, the more innocents Muslims murder, the more crimes against humanity Muslims commit, the more countries Muslims lay waste, the harder our mass media try to avoid acknowledging the religious element of all this filthy medieval degradation. It's a hate crime to point out hate crimes.

Back when I was in junior high, the big story on everyone's lips was the unabomber. The entire United States cowered before that looming threat expanded to world-conquering comic book supervillain dimensions by a decade-long media frenzy. We love to hate Kaczynski because he was a smart guy and he was truly acting as an individual, a lone wolf, an anti-sheep. We'd hate him for being an anarcho-primitivist too if Joe Average knew what that was. He's a useful boogeyman for the rich to demonize anarchism, to feed the stereotype of the bomb-throwing anarchist, to justify cracking down on individualism. He stands out precisely because he's one of the very few such examples not killing in the name of some religious pyramid of power.

Theodore Kaczynski killed three people. Ironically, that's also how many were killed in just one attempted mass murder by a brainwashed gun-toting anti-abortion Christian redneck just a couple of years ago.

Over a period of a decade and a half, Kacyznski managed three victims. His total "injured" victim count over seventeen years is the same as the number of dead victims of yesterday's religious bombing. That's just yesterday. Tomorrow's another day.

We all know Kaczynski's name. Try memorizing the names of all the Muslim attempted mass murderers in the past seventeen years. To make it easy for you, stick with the ones who killed at least three people.

The real kicker was listening this morning to the newscaster telling me authorities are investigating whether yesterday's bomber was part of a larger group.

Yes, he was. It's called Islam you fucking retards!

Our Great Dictator Trump would of course save us all except that at the moment, like every other White House corporate puppet before him, he finds his lips planted on the Saudis' posteriors with such ardor that you can't even see his carrot top anymore. Yeah, those foreigners are all rapists and Evil Losers... unless they've got oil or borscht, right Donnie?
We only like evil winners.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

A Stake in Tales

Tailsteak's got two major comics online. A very long time ago I ran into 1/0 and skipped it for its cringe-worthy art style... or lack thereof. In the meantime, The Order of the Stick and xkcd have built up my tolerance for shaky, indistinct amateurish scribbling, so as a prelude to Leftover Soup's impending ending, I ran through the full 1/0 archive as well. Aside from the two comics' separate highs and lows, there's something fascinating about the author's own intellectual advancement.

The Tailsteak of 1/0 is among other things still fighting off his own streak of religious apologism, most notably in turning Marcus, the strawman pompous nerd, into a strawman unbeliever as well, refusing to acknowledge the blatantly obvious existence of his creator. By Leftover Soup, though hardly anti-religious, his new main characters have themselves rebelled against religion at some point in the past (Ellen) or are in the process of outgrowing their religious indoctrination (Jamie, Deist, raised by "crazy, fall-on-the-floor Pentecostals.")

Leftover Soup mostly takes place in the sphere of modern identity politics rather than in a philosophical headspace concerned with storytelling mechanics. Tailsteak (in both comic and commentary) expounds on oppressed minorities and sexual orientations and hates the people he's supposed to hate (like anyone telling men to stop being doormats to women.) Much of the story revolves around Jamie the overprivileged-white-hetero-male-designated-loser rendering service to prove his worth to mate and ascending to the sainted status of "boyfriend" while absorbing his paramour's friends' abuse and degradation with all the serenity of an ox.

And yet... the very last scene concerns not in the slightest the rom-com trope of the man declaring undying devotion and two lovers kissing while the credits begin to roll. Instead it shows two male characters shaking hands and agreeing to teach each other about pop culture and cooking for themselves. That's right, he Bechdeled that shit. Two men are having a conversation not about bitches and hoes. For all his dedication to political correctness, white guilt, male guilt, hetero guilt, atheist guilt, this is how he chose to cut things off: equality, independence and willing cooperation.


Regardless of disagreeing with most of his politics and quite a few of his storytelling choices, I'm getting the same sense of wonder noted in Captain Picard a couple of posts ago, watching a rising intellect see the clouds from the other side. Tailsteak's shaking off systems of indoctrination at breakneck pace. Will he advance to independent intellectualism, backslide into reactionary zealotry or swaddle himself more securely in the safety blanket of our contemporary politically correct circle-jerk? It's anyone's guess. Looking forward to his next project.

I would in fact have a request. Your Marcus was a triple strawman: nerd, atheist and transhumanist, and the third you've never addressed. Explore inhumanity.
Above all, keep moving.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Diabolic Paths of Od Nua

"it takes minute detail, it takes holy life, it takes dedication, it takes dedication
and you couldn't do it if you're not the seed of God
and so the path through these great corridors
(these are corridors unto His perfection)
and i went through that last segment
where i went through these dark serpentines
i passed through that corridor
where they sat, where they are

this is all a dream
a dream in death
and so i went through that window
and the tower of hell and the great serpentines of the highest order"

Godspeed You ! Black Emperor - Static


While Diablo 2 was Blizzard Entertainment's test lab for keeping players enthralled to an endless loot grinding treadmill, the first Diablo game was a worthy project in its own right, a compromise between the randomized roguelikes of the previous decade and the rising trend of scripted, story-based RPGs which came to be dominated by Black Isle's Infinity Engine games. Diablo earned its fame largely by thematic coherence, both in gameplay mechanics and its artistic delivery of the bleak grayscale "built on an Indian burial ground" B-movie haunted town routine. Magic specialness did not suffer from the rampant devaluation seen in loot grinding games like World of Warcraft and its copycats (there's a reason the DnD routine breaks down after twenty levels) and its four by four zones proceeded in a very satisfying fashion from intrigue to rising action to climax and denouement. Diablo was a DnD dungeon crawl. Play a fighter, rogue or wizard, dodge traps, track down macguffins slay ghoulish beasties and grab tha lewt! Though the Infinity Engine games tacked on a classic dungeon crawl here and there (Durlag's Tower, Watcher's Keep, more in Icewind Dale) Diablo embodied it, descending level by level through incremental badassery. The whole game was a megadungeon.

So, ironically, when I played Pillars of Eternity, the Endless Paths of Od Nua reminded me not of the Baldur's Gate games Obsidian ostensibly emulated but of Blizzard's more simplistic, more atmospheric downward spiral. This is not a bad thing. Diablo succeeded (some might say too well) in getting players engaged in the delving of its multi-tiered, nested cluster of adventures. You can see the same precept in many other games as well (Skyrim's Dwemer ruins for example, with a layer of Falmer biscuit underneath) but it's usually not laid out purposefully, consciouslly, unapologetically enough to really drive home the message. For all that open world adventures have to offer, there's a lot to be said for a well-executed, iterative escalation of thrills and drama. Something about the neural infrastructure we've inherited from our arboreal ancestors also insists such escalation must have something to do with verticality. It's either a glorious climb up mount Olympus or a daring descent down deep dark dungeons of doomy despair. You half expect Virgil to materialize at your side to show you the way to Cocytus.


Like Blizzard decades ago when still capable of some creativity, Obsidian realized their labyrinth needed both diversity and some coherent recurring themes to keep everything together. For Diablo this was descending through sedimentary history, from gothic masonry to crudely dug catacombs to volcanic caves to hell itself. For the Paths of Od Nua it's the visible bits and pieces of the gigantic statue and repeated hints of the true nature of the Master Below interwoven with the Engwithan opera plot. About the only element out of place were the adra beetles, mostly because their placement was too random and out of sync with the thematic build-up.

Both adventures benefited greatly from the player not knowing just how far the rabbit hole goes (barring internet spoilers) from simply discovering another and yet another set of stairs at the end of each level, building up and stretching expectations with each new descent. After all, you basically start out exploring a church basement. The Endless Paths even, hilariously, keep teasing you with red herring big bads which seem like an appropriate climax to a mere side quest, only for each one to declare "huh? Master Below? no, no, you're looking for that other guy" before pointing you to yet another set of stairs. There's a lot of fun to be had with the inevitable observation that DnD's absurdly oversized dungeons must house their own monster-eat-monster ecology. Best of all, the dungeon does have a definitive beginning and end, obfuscated for dramatic/comedic purposes as it may be. You're not simply rerouted to the start for everything to respawn with 10x the hit points. You've earned your victory.

Games have an artistic side and art is less about the basic concept as about the execution. My basic preferences run toward sweeping open-world adventuring, but Pillars of Eternity's little old-school jaunt through the nine circles of this-and-that gave me a sense of glee you don't normally find in modern monetization strategies .... errr, I mean "games." The Endless Paths of Od Nua are a work of art.

So I have to wonder: why don't we see more of this? Give me a game ostensibly about a basic "cops and robbers" setup only for one robbery to blow open an oversized labyrinthine sub-basement sending me to rescue hostages from aligator-infested sewers only to be drawn into an abandoned subway tunnel adventure with ninja hobos which leads to old World War 2 bunkers covered in mutant ducks, beneath which is the secret underground lair of a mad scientist who, it turns out was really only trying to save the world from the dire threat of morlocks from the steam age fighting the descendants of an old Roman legion, who themselves are trying to escape the lizardmen coming up through lava tunnels which lead to a 65-million-year-old cavern filled with dinosaurs and the ancient alien spaceship which really wiped them all out and yes, I could probably keep going.

Seriously, don't tempt me. I've got misfiring brain cells and I know how to use them.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Justice Is Asocial

Decades ago, chatting before the teacher came in back in my high school biology class, a vaguely religious type huffed and puffed that "the world needs more righteous people" to which a skinny little blonde hippie chick piped up: "yeah, righteous, not self-righteous."

I don't normally bother staying topical around here. I'm more about intravening in deep (t)issues. Also, as a dedicated escapist I barely keep up with the news half the time anyway. I am however amused by this whole uproar over Stephen Colbert calling Prezzie Trump a cocksucker, mostly because of the willful ignorance displayed by both Colbert's fans and detractors. The bit itself was actually not much, a fairly mediocre comedian's tirade. I chuckled, though more at the skinheads/Rogaine crack.

While highly amused that Trump's degenerate redneck supporters have suddenly found themselves so breathlessly, apopleptically concerned over insults to the honor of homo-kind, I can't help but note some very good points being made in the process, like: if Colbert had said this about Obama, he'd have been fired, from Comedy Central, from CBS, from a cannon into the sun. Maybe, maybe not. Colbert's after all gotten away with a lot of cheap, crass insults over the years, as have his innumerable right-wing counterparts who called Obama Hitler for eight years straight. You're supposed to get away with such things in a free society. Still, it is true that the audience laughing along with Colbert at Trump's expense is the same which threw fits over every single minute slight brought against Obama's social rank as president, like when a governor wagged her finger at him. Oh noes!
Of course, it's Trump himself who's lowered political discourse to this level but one can't help but notice the self-styled left wing utterly failing to maintain the high ground.

Which is a funny comment to interject in the midst of all this babbling, since it's not the simple act of lèse-majesté which has everyone's panties in a bunch but a perceived implicit slight against homosexuals. You could have taken greater offense to Colbert's follow-up insult to the president's dick size, which by the same microaggressive rationale might wound many more people even more grievously by implying we should be defining our worth by base reproductive attributes. Instead, everyone's scrambling to align themselves with the interests of a morally unassailable social caste.

On a completely unrelated matter, on May 9th, about a week after Colbert's fateful show, the cartoonist and über-gamer John Kovalic decided to post a Dork Tower strip ridiculing those (like myself) who might dare attack the glorious pinnacle of modern moral righteousness. Ironically, the strip falls flat thanks to the same unselfconscious puffed-up ignorance which has made a farce and insult of the "social justice warrior" in the first place. The very term "virtue signaling" serves to remind us that signaling is often used by animals in dishonest fashion, to bluff or seduce or otherwise manipulate others by lying, physically or behaviorally or both. To signal virtue is not necessarily to have virtue, but it seeks virtuous treatment by others.

True justice is not social. That's why you see her blindfolded. It's impersonal, objective, cold to the point of frostbite but fair. Justice does not see the person but only weighs the deeds. To be a social justice warrior is to be a shallow, facetious, hollow caricature of do-gooding, much like the seedily homicidal holy paladins which Kovalic himself has lampooned in his Dungeons and Dragons comics. The SJW seeks to designate a social position as the absolute good and implicitly align herself with it, as a means of advancing in social rank, as a means of attacking others with impunity. It's a primitive, animalistic competitive mechanism. The SJWs chant their slogans, tone-deaf to any nuance, overemotional and under-analytical, willfully blind to anything which does not build up the platform on which they've chosen to make their stand.

So it's only fitting that pro-homo rhetoric should now be used to attack Donald Trump's detractors, because long, long before all this was a left wing practice, the right wing did it better and with more panache. Who should make the greatest social justice warriors of all but backward, reactionary, tribal, religious, Luddite backbirths? We are, after all, talking about fundamentalism here.

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P.S.:
Oh, and by the way, Colbert, as far as I can tell, wasn't even calling Trump gay. He was calling him a whore.
You fucking morons.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

ST:TNG - Samaritan Watchers

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.
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Seriesdate: 2.17
Samaritan Snare

Due to half this episode being muddied by viscous Wesleyitis and an insipid (and terribly acted) B-plot about Picard going into the shop to rinse the rust off his pacemaker, the main plot's greatly reduced. LaForge teleports to a ship run by a dopey, pudgy species of tweedledums.
They are Pakleds. They are far from home. They look for things. Things to make them go. Their ship is broken. Can you make their ship go? Once LaForge does so, they decide to keep him to make them stronk. Turns out any idiot can point a gun at someone, and the stupidity makes the gun no less threatening. Taken hostage, LaForge outwits his captors into surrendering.

While the main idea of babyish cretins exploiting others' generosity, looting and kidnapping their way to greatness is solid, the execution's lacking. Not enough time could be devoted to gradually unveiling the Pakleds' unlikely star-cruising career, so this is delivered as fairly dry exposition. On the other hand, too much time was devoted to establishing their dopey, mumbling, waddling mannerisms, which by way of repetition without nuance grow thin after a couple of reiterations.


________________________________________

Seriesdate: 3.04
Who Watches the Watchers


Hmm. Minus five points for the very tenuous application of Plato's old noodle-scratcher. Then again, I pun half my titles so I'm in no position to talk.
Aside from that, this one's a classic. Right off the bat, even Patrick Stewart sounds more confident and comfortable delivering his standard introductory monologue. Everything's better. Outdoor shots are shot out of doors and not on some poorly-lit sound stage littered with plaster boulders (see The Last Outpost or Hide and QQ.) The actors move and interact with each other more naturally, beyond mere choreography. The special effects support the action instead of being gratuitously showcased. The social commentary's more than facetious political correctness. Best of all, it takes a moldy old SF plot straight out of 1930s young adult pulp magazines and manages to get it to a striking approximation of "right."

There's an old romantic adventure story trope of gun-toting Europeans reaching some primitive tribe who immediately starts worshipping them as gods. Call it imperialist propaganda if you like but that shit goes down more often than you'd think. SF codifies its equivalent in Clarke's third law, whether portraying human gods as aliens or humans being mistaken for gods by aliens. So, in this episode, the Enterprise resupplies a trio of anthropologists observing a planet of "proto-Vulcan humanoids at the bronze-age level." They look more like Romulans but never mind. An equipment malfunction wounds the anthropologists and one of the natives, who in a drugged-out stupor (conveyed by a greased camera lens, really breaking the special effects budget with that one) witnesses Picard giving orders in what he thinks is heaven (sick-bay) and upon being sent back down brings the gospel of the almighty Overseer Picard to his people. All that's missing is a volcano in the background. Hilarity ensues.
Actually, for once it really does, as watching a religion spring up through all its predictable phases in the space of half an hour, Penguin Island style, is a satirical gold-mine.

I believe I have seen the overseer. He is called... The Picard!
Granted, it's not all perfect. Liko, the wounded Mintakan, received his vision of "The Picard" under conditions of physical and emotional stress and was thus understandably susceptible to a rapid slide into delusions of the supernatural and becoming a revival tent Saint Paul. However, Nuria, the level-headed leader of the colony who only gets the story second-hand, should not have turned proselyte so quickly.
It makes perfect sense for Troi to help Riker infiltrate the Mintakan village, but once there we devote no screen time to her applying either her telepathy or her skills as a mediator to the situation.
The anthropologists are surprisingly uninvolved in discussions with their objects of study.
Such corners were likely cut in the interest of cramming the whole plot into forty-five minutes. Also, what the hell was the props department thinking with these bows?
Yeah, they dressed a very modern bow from a sporting goods store up in some rags to make it look vaguely wooden... except they didn't even bother with the grip? Or the arrow? Were there seriously no Robin Hood surplus props lying around the studio? Bah.

Anyhoo, what really makes the episode is the Mintakans themselves. The standard version of the technomagical presto-divinity routine relegates the natives to the status of wide-eyed, mumbling, gullible, excitable dimwits prone to attributing anything and everything to supernatural causes. The Mintakans on the other hand are rational beings with a tendency to show up our current society's own taboos, as Troi's exposition to Riker demonstrates:

Troi: "Mintakan emotions are quite interesting. Like the Vulcans, they have highly ordered minds. A very sensible people. For example" she nudges him aside and struts ahead of him "Mintakan women precede their mates. It's a signal to other women."
Riker: "This man's taken, getcher own?"
Troi: "Not precisely... More like: if you want his services, I'm the one you have to negotiate with."
Riker: "What kind of services?"
Troi, grinning: "All kinds."
Riker: "They are a sensible race!"

More importantly, the writers did not shy away from the question of faith. A conference with the anthropologist pulls no punches in outlining the devolution threatened by a religious revival in the Mintakans: barbarism, repression, holy wars, inquisitions, pogroms. The failure of the intervention would likely ultimately render humans as reviled in Mintakan mythology as the Overlords of A.C. Clarke's Childhood's End.

Mintakan society abandoned religion a millennium ago, and we're given to understand that only the extraordinary conditions of the humans' appearance to Liko overcame their natural rationality. This reverses the old volcano god routine into a perfect illustration of the rationale behind the prime directive. Instead of the mighty civilized people elevating the primitives, too-early contact nearly sends their society backsliding a thousand years into slavish, simpering, anti-intellectual religious idolatry. There's a respect for independent thought, for innate intellectual ability, for stoic Vulcan reason in the script's attitude which is itself a taboo in popular entertainment with its constant reinforcement of mindless emotionalism and codependence. Yet unlike Home Soil which over-exposited its slightly similar theme, Who Watches the Watchers is aided by Stewart's excellent acting in the conversation with the colony leader Nuria.
Nuria: "Perhaps one day my people will travel above the skies."
Picard: "Of that I have absolutely no doubt."

The sense of awe his voice and fixed gaze carry in those seconds manage to eclipse the more conventionally dramatic next scene when he offers himself up as a sacrifice to convince the other natives of his mortality. Here is the captain of an interstellar spaceship with enough firepower to scorch this woman's entire planet, a sky god staring and whispering in hushed, rapt admiration to her in her cheap linen rags. What Picard is witnessing as Nuria watches her planet's clouds from the other side is the potential and promise of these people, intellectual growth itself, the only meaning to be discerned in existence. It's a finer moment than you can find in a thousand hours of television and Stewart captured it perfectly.

For all its unevenness, when TNG was good, it was damn good.

Now think of the Pakleds again. For all their unpleasantness, their story could just as well have been handled the same way, to even more poignant effect. After all, Clarke's protagonist in Childhood's End makes it clear he doesn't believe the Overlords' appreciation of humans is any more than that of a man for his pet dog, liable to bite his hand once in a while, yet the affection is there nonetheless. We can despise the Pakleds as they are now, but if they are capable of intellectual growth then we can still stand in admiration of the advancement itself, of progress.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Banished Bubba's Buboes

I've praised the city village-building game Banished around here before, along with its restrained, dignified aesthetics, promising reinterpretation of video game economics and some of its amusing quirks. One of these is its population growth mechanic.

In order to breed, couples need their own house, and villagers can live up to their eighties but women only breed until forty. This results in waves of population growth followed by decline as old codgers continue to occupy their old houses, preventing new families from moving in. Even as they die and young couples take to cranking out the bambinos, it takes another ten years for these to get to about twenty years old (don't ask) and become fully functional underlings. Thus, the waves of dieback can grow quite significant, to a third of your population:


In the early years it can actually cost you the game, if you allow your entire population to advance past breeding age. You can shore up your numbers by admitting nomads to your village. Sure, they're uneducated, unhealthy, unequipped and unwashed, but what could go wrong?
The little upward spike to the tail-end of that graph in the second image marks the introduction of a hundred-odd new bodies to the village in an attempt to smooth out the boom and bust sinusoid. The immediate sharp decline with which the graph ends marks the PLAGUE!

Nomads and traders increase the odds of an epidemic in your village, and this bunch apparently hailed direct from Caffa. I didn't even know about that feature until it happened to me and I looked it up but it fits so damn perfectly, yet another example of Banished's elegance. A triumph soured, my attempt to speed my town's recovery turned into an added five-year slump (visible in the first graph, the small spike in the third trough) and ironically the population cycle was finally dampened by a well-placed double epidemic a generation later.
Like an uppercut from a dragon. Look, ma, no cutscenes!

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Wolf Totem

So, I watched a wolf movie 'cuz wolves are amazing (like, duh, y'know?) and while not the fanciest flick I've ever seen, it flicked my fancy enough to scan for the director's name at the end.
Jean-Jacques Annaud. Meh, never heard o' da mook, thinks I, before actually looking him up and realizing I've seen (and either liked or at least not actively disliked) half of his career.

Enemy at the Gates and Seven Years in Tibet were pleasant enough, in a prettified Hollywoodish sort of way.
I take some issue with The Name of the Rose for some of its deviations from the novel, but can't really hold the director at fault for crowd-pleasing story changes.
The Bear's probably his most unique movie qua movie, blissfully free of human babbling for the most part and can give Bambi a run for its money any day.
I would've remembered his work most easily if told "he directed Quest for Fire" which albeit inexcusably sexualized was among the best, if not even the best big-budget grunting hairy paleolithic apeman epic adventure film I've ever seen.
But let us return to our sheep-eaters.

Wolf Totem might as well be a poor attempt at "Dances With Wolves in Inner Mongolia" for its cheesy setup: city boy learns the mystical ways of savagely noble nomadic peoples. Complete with forbidden fruit love interest and old chieftains speaking dire prophecies. Watch enraptured as adequately competent actors politely resent centralized authority!

However, once you get past the awkward reiteration of various archetypes, the cinematography beautifully depicts old steppe scenery, from sweeping seas of grass to cataclysmic weather to costumes and mannerisms and old customs uncomfortable to modern sensibilities, to the wolves themselves. More than just pretty, the various scene-setting, panoramic and action sequences can at times be breathtaking. Also, while the script's eco-friendly moralizing is delivered in the usual trite and naive hippie fashion, let's keep in mind very little of it was actually fabricated.
That hungry wolves are more prone to attacking humans and their livestock in winter has been observed by every temperate region in the world for several thousand years.
Superstitious primitives really are prone to offering up surprisingly reliable and sophisticated practical rules for interacting with their immediate environment, not because their shaman-addled brains have the first clue as to underlying causes but because all the other superstitious primitives who didn't follow such best practices managed to stumble into early graves.
Finally, even without relying on this one novelist's semi-autobiographical account and apocalyptic visions, it should be no news to anyone that China's propensity for ecological disasters ranks second only to its utter disdain for human life.

Wolf Totem's no masterpriece, but it's an uncharacteristically honest (if limited) product of a political system trying to put up a show of atoning for its irredeemable sins, and thanks to its directing and technical skill quite a few of its scenes will stick with you.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

+5 Everything Damage

I've been gushing about Pillars of Eternity and Tides of Numenera's improvements on RPG tropes for the past few months but they both drop the ball when it comes to meaningless proliferation of ability and damage types. I complained about this trend in one of my earliest posts here, and four and a half years later I'm seeing no signs of improvement.

Whatever creative potential the Numenera setting's "esoteries" (magic spells) might have in the pen and paper version is utterly lost on TToN. From level 1, my nano was pigeonholed into shooting a basic magic missile spell, which I could switch, at will, to any damage type I please. Later you of course get the "greater magic missile" or "missile storm" spell which is not just any-purpose but all-purpose.
Leaving aside for the moment the issue of trivializing magic by limiting it to moronic pew-pew, there is no point in pretending to include six different damage types in your combat system unless you're actually going to make players choose between them. The same goes for status effects:
While that item from PoE is a rather extreme and unique example (most items protect against a couple of those) that litany of status effects perfectly illustrates the problem. It is not feasible to even attempt to predict which type of effect will be used by enemies, so you end up relying on the "suspend all negative effects" items or priest spell.

Why do game developers so routinely shoot themselves in the foot?

In PvP games featuring different damage types to be defended against by different armor, the number of options is more often than not limited to two: physical and magic, or physical and "energy" if you're in a SF setting, or "soft" and "hard" damage in Planetside, etc. If you get up to four, as in EVE, you already start seeing them routinely combined for offense, and players ignoring specific defenses in favor of all-purpose safety blankets. I'm sure anyone more versed in game theory than myself would readily name various cogitations on the maximum number of choices before not-choosing becomes the best logical choice. The lady or the tiger? Dodgy choice to begin with. When it's "the lady or the tiger or the tiger or the tiger or the other tiger" you end up collapsing in the arena in resignation or trying to jump the wall.

Nevertheless, it is possible to institute a wide array of choices in PvE so long as you give players some means of scouting or planning ahead. The Lord of the Rings Online, before it got dumbed down into insignificance, had quite a few examples of creatures to be countered by specific abilities (minstrel/loremaster undead dazing for example) or weapons made of one of three particular metals. In an MMO, players would know what kind of dungeon they're planning to run and stock up accordingly, a dynamic carried over from tabletop games. If your D&D group's planning to raid the Tomb of the Bloodless Butler on Thursday, you probably know to stock up on holy water and starch-piercing wooden stakes.

In story-based single-player games, however, developers usually opt against letting players scout ahead in favor of suspenseful secrecy and plot twists, which means including any specific damage/ability counters in the game mechanics is either purely cosmetic, or worse, a whole barrel full of red herrings. Do yourselves a favor and stop wasting development time on implementing options which you'll only waste more employee hours homogenizing into irrelevance two patches later when your play-testers throw up their hands in frustration at being blindsided.

Do it right or not at all.

Monday, May 1, 2017

In Absentia Absentia

It's midnight and you should be dead already. Steady hands are in short supply, eyes dry since two decades' December remember the first past fast lost last future surrender, no presents in the present. Presence displaces un-faces, retraces telomeric regression, chimeric persuasion of a future distended to Presence discredit with unsung scores of regressing sores, spots hippocampally situated. Diluted intent intently dilettadabbles in fables relenting their morals in favor of floral promises to dreary marble edifices resounding lachrymal disingenuities to smother perpetuities. Present cadence voraciously subatriates ventriculating disdainfully against presence posterity with criminal neutrality. Posterior unity as to Presence discongruity perpetuates Presence futility, extraneous extance, degenerate genity generous only in thermodynamic disparity. 'Mid nights' periodicity Presence diss corpore but vanity sullies intent on dissent with lubadub sinphonies. Each night mediocre potentia choker Presence revoking sing chiseled moniker marbling invoker of Presence redeemed by rectangular perpendicular absence restorer knife/noose/jump/shoots/drug/hug the track close. Chug-a-chug your redemption, pen a last Presence mention, defection your peace declaration, but we all know you won't grow past your slow degradation. Your absence present, happy day long away they would thank you eventually. Your absence would free them, beg Presence no more than a requiem, all it has ever been, never the courage to absent the corporem. It's past midnight and it's just another day and you still haven't done it yet, set your clock for the next, set your bet for yet another regret.It's past midnight and you're not absent yet.