Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Joiners' Guild

When you talk about joining a club, you don't really have to specify which. Throughout all of human history there's only ever been the one club. It's always the same. The people in it are always the same, sporting the same supercilious grins to cover the insecurity of their footing within the bounds of social acceptability. Everyone else is always outside of it and keeping them out encompasses the alpha and omega of clubs, and clubbing. There are no friends without enemies, no wealth without poverty, no rulers without ruled, no brotherhood without nominal evil oppressors to hate.

I'm not much of a joiner. I'm just your best enemy.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

We've only reached the third tier of...

"I can already see your name disintegrating from my lips
I've got bullets in the booth
Rather be your victim than be with you"

Marilyn Manson - Third Day of a Seven Day Binge

It's a month after Funcom re-released its dead horse The Secret World and predictably enough it broke a couple of legs right out the gate. However, despite the idiotically simplified gameplay and seemingly endless parade of bugs (literally, a giant bug boss in one of the instances is now in the habit of duplicating itself) this maze of bad ideas has managed to retain a few paying customers.

A few. And when you have just a few customers for a nominally multiplayer game, you'd think you'd be struggling to keep them in contact with each other no matter what. Old TSW failed to do that by segregating players into several tiers of gear quality requirements. You had your regular, elite and nightmare "difficulty" instances, then elite Tokyo and NM Tokyo instances. As more tiers were ladled on top of the old ones, the gap between new and old players widened, a process recognizable from any moronic WoW-clone online game. New players can't get groups because old players have no reason to group with them and as the number of old players thins due to various forms of attrition, they too become isolated.

New TSW's chat window's already peppered with occasional complaints about the impossibility of finding a group for even the most common daily grind in the game, tier 1 elite instances. What are those, you ask?
Why it's the first of ten tiers of l33tness segregated by nothing more than the number of upgrades you've acquired on your equipment. The same eight instances you'd encounter in the introductory Story Mode, reiterated in a tenfold gear grinding timesink.

I was able to heal and DPS through l33t instances with under 60 "item power" with few or no problems. Now I can't get groups, not because the instances have changed but because the brainless trash who've farmed over 250 power refuse to group with my measly 120. My e-peen is too small :( and size matters when you decide to pretend it matters.

This is one month into a system which is supposed to yield a player community viable for years on end. The loot grinding treadmill is already fracturing the game on entirely artificial, self-inflicted grounds yielding no extra content or improved gameplay whatsoever. And holy shit, this is still talking about players playing within the same second tier of those eleven! Those first eleven of presumably many more to follow!

Character levels have always been counterproductive in multiplayer games, yet somehow developers keep rendering this idiocy more and more laughable.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Men Are Better than Roger Ebert

"Help me, you tear down my reason
Help me, it's your sex I can smell
Help me, you make me *per-fect*
Help me become somebody else"

NIN - Closer

Have you heard?
Women are better than men.
- or so Roger Ebert informed us as a last public service the year before dying.

Though their heyday mostly comprised the late '80s and nineties, many of you might've seen the film critics Siskel and Ebert doing their thing, or if you're not old enough might still have seen them parodied as emblems of their profession. Many have since attempted to copy the perceived key to their success, with two commentators of divergent personalities meeting halfway so that their famous "two thumbs up" represented not only an accumulation of scored points but an intersection of desirable qualities. Gene Siskel was the more coldly cerebral and critical of the two, leaving it to limbic Ebert to like the nice things, goodness aside. While I could stomach the dyspeptic Siskel to some extent, Ebert's jowly bonhomie always aroused an instinctive wariness in me. While reading The Fountainhead I semi-consciously appended his face to Rand's subversive, underhandedly scheming villain Ellsworth Toohey, and until now I thought I was being unfair.

The article, in a nutshell: he watched a piece of feminist propaganda, gave it nine thumbs up a la Homer Simpson, and decided to pile on with his own diatribe proclaiming the evils of y-chromosomes and his abject devotion before the manipulative sex. Supposedly, in the movie, a mixed Christian / Muslim village in Lebanon stands on the brink of sectarian violence. It's not the fault of religion of course but of those stupid, evil, brutish, primitive men (of course) and of course it's up to the elevated, pristine, angelic women to rule and civilize their lowly counterparts. Granted I've never seen the flick but, cinematography, directing and other technical aptitude aside, I'm pretty sure I could swallow the same chauvinistic garbage in any Lifetime Channel movie of the week.

I don't normally indulge in the forum war line-by-line quote dissection routine, but I guess I can make an exception for dead film critics.

In Ebert's words:
"The women [...]conspire to distract the men from their foolish chest-beating. They stage fake miracles. They sneak hashish into their diets. In a bold masterstroke, they import a troupe of exotic Ukrainian dancers who are touring Lebanon.
Enough about the movie, except for this simple mind experiment: Can you imagine a movie in which Muslim and Christian women start fighting with religion as their excuse, and the men band together to import go-go boys? Not easily."

True, I can't. Mostly, I can't imagine that movie being made because no movie studio would subject itself to feminist lynch mobs by even the most lighthearted criticism of femininity. We'd also need a new plot, since (as Mr. Ebert had apparently not noticed in his seven decades on the Flying Spaghetti Monster's green earth) men and women don't value sex in the same way. Yes, when it comes to strictly sexual jealousy, men are more apt to mate-guard, to beat other males away with a stick.

However, if you're asking whether I can imagine a world in which men subvert their own desires to feed women's own power-games between each other, then yes. I can imagine men paying for and sitting through tedious social events just so their wives can display their social status to each other. I can conceive of a world in which men torture themselves by legally-enforced monogamy and work to pay for oversized houses for their wives to play out their nesting instincts, in which men subvert their sexual instincts and mentally torture themselves their entire lives trying to fit themselves to female romantic ideals, to unending displays of devotion, to providing and protecting. None of this will of course make for a very novel Sundance movie plot, because we're already living it. Bo-oo-riiiiing.

More striking than his basic premise however were some of grandpa Ebert's smattering of supporting arguments and side comments, like:

"[Women] are far less involved in violent crimes, and crime of all sorts."

Does "less involved" include "less likely to profit from" or are women simply better at pushing men into risk while grabbing the spoils and maintaining deniability? Do mafia wives not share their husbands' mansions? How many ex-wives and sugar babies is every cut-throat corporate climber financing? How much of a convenience store robber's take goes to supporting his baby-momma?

"I believe that a great many things can be explained by the process of evolution, and differences in the sexes are certainly included. We are the descendants of primitive hunting and gathering societies. Men are better are hunting, and women are better at gathering. Men are taller, heavier, stronger. They're not in the child-rearing business."

Well, I guess that shows what movie critics understand about evolution.
Actually, mammalian males have a tendency to devote more energy to their offspring than most of the animal kingdom, and even among mammals human males show an astounding amount of parental investment. This stems from the debilitating effects of our long infancy and goes hand-in-hand with another weird-ass quirk we acquired somewhere between "homo" and "habilis": our females actually compete with each other for mates-as-providers. Not nearly to the extent that males compete for females-as-breeders, but that it happens at all would shock the mores of any self-respecting hen or doe. Thus, while a woman might tolerate a stripper shaking her tits in her husband's face... as long as she then quickly exits, stage whicheverway... they'll still scratch each others' eyes out if they perceive the slightest long-term encroachment, and it's men who get drafted and weaponized in women's turf wars, not the other way around. While women compete for men's service, men compete much more fiercely to be condescendingly permitted to serve women. Men are taller, heavier, stronger, largely so they can play their role as proxies, as a woman's muscle.

"One obvious reason for larger breasts, therefore, is to send a signal to prospective mates that they are promising candidates for motherhood. You may not realize this when you see a crowd of half-loaded guys in a lap-dance joint, but in some primeval sense they're looking for mothers--perhaps their own."

Jesus fuck, that has got to be the most half-assed pop-psych I've seen in years. Is it not obviously self-defeating? Do we even need to get into all the signals men send as high-quality workhorses, providers of resources for women? How many $3000 suits did Ebert own, I wonder? And if those men are looking for mothers, then how much more obvious is it that a woman looking for a dependable lifelong mate to interpose between herself and the world, she's also looking for a daddy figure to take care of her? What he says next though is a lot more interesting:

"Women know things like that. Dogs understand humans by closely observing us. They follow our eyeliners, and discover what interests us. Women understand men in the same way. They observe the whole man, while men tend to focus more on secondary sexual characteristics and signals of availability. This is why a woman is more willing to marry an ugly man than a man is to marry an ugly woman. The woman is looking for reliability, responsibility, bread-winning. The man is looking for boobs."

This one paragraph encompasses so much of our nature, as individuals, as a society, as an instinct-driven species. Women observe men the better to manipulate them. Men avoid acquiring the same understanding, the better to be manipulated by women. Men who delve into self-serving motivations of women are less likely to let themselves become trapped, less likely to be permitted by women to pass on their genetic material. They become less represented in the gene pool. The men who embrace their sacrificial role give their offspring a better chance at the social status which ensures continuation of the bloodline, at being rich enough to dodge the draft. We inherit male slavishness at the same time we inherit female control. Thus, among other mental afflictions, we hear this same willfully ignorant refrain in every corner of our society: that female instinct is somehow less instinctual than male instinct, that the mindless instinctive drive to ensnare a bread-winner is somehow more elevated than the mindless instinctive drive for boobs.

"Consider the role of the sexes in modern times. Men no longer need to be powerful and violent in order to hunt bison, walk behind a plow, tote that barge or lift that bale. In a society where the hunting and gathering is done by corporations, they need to be smart and work well with others.[...]
These are areas in which men are not necessarily better equipped than women. A great deal of male drive is fueled by testosterone. A man wants to defeat other men and become the leader of the pack.[...]
Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than in the financial industry. Investment bankers do nor sow, and neither do they reap. They make nothing but profits. They create those profits through the stock ownership of companies that do make and sell things, but at their level they hardly care if they're making tractors or dildos."
In the same breath, Ebert lambastes men for being ill-suited to polite modern society and blames men for polite modern society, ignoring the sheer femininity of the system he describes. The corporate world is one of hiding behind legal fictions, taking no direct action, unable to meet one's competitors in direct conflict, prevented from taking individual public recognition for one's victories. Every corporate profiteer, male or female, is a scheming, manipulative trophy wife hiding behind a towering steel-and-glass husband of an office building protecting her from repercussions and providing her with social status. No matter how much men overcompensate, there's nothing in the methodology of the investment circle-jerk to give Conan the Barbarian a hard-on! It's rather what happens when men try to adopt indirect, communal, manipulative feminine tactics.

I'd think someone as observant of cultural trends as Mr. Ebert should have spotted the glaring archetypal mismatch there, but then this is not a matter of true ignorance but willful ignorance. Neither am I accusing him of being some sort of fanatical ideologue. He did not create the system, and I doubt he gave his article half the thought I've given this attack on it. He was, however, emblematic. For over twenty years, his show occupied a spot at the very center of American pop culture. His job as not king or knight but high priest of the celluloid temple was to tell others what to think. Ebert imbibed zeitgiest by the reel, day in and day out for his entire career, and when he regurgitated it, little wonder it turned out to be our society's "egalitarian" feminist consensus: man bad, woman good; men should shut up and serve women. Pay no attention to the woman behind the curtain.

What you have to ask yourself now is how many articles like Ebert's you've absorbed during your life. If it had been titled "men are better than women" ... well, Ebert's name would've been Hitlerized in a second. Yet any bullshit you care to spew, no matter how un-analyzed, no matter how blatantly abusive, receives a chorus of applause so long as it's abusive toward men. From the cradle on, through film critics and awards speeches, overinflated statistics and political pandering to the female vote, on every channel, in every pop song, in every general education college course, we've absorbed the absolute dogma of male original sin, the aching need to genuflect before primitive she-ape entitlement.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Legendary Fail

"You said someday you'll change
But even a fool will tell you
Someday never comes"

Brandi Carlile - Someday Never Comes

Partial list of bugged features I've personally experienced in The Secret World: Legends :

stuck animations
switching instances to join your group splits groups
ground targeting will not function while queued after another ability
cone AoE hitting even when off-target, at infinite range
invisible ground AOE (many, many examples)
stuck "in combat" for several seconds after fights
tankless groups created by groupfinder algorithm
pvp health rebalancing will only feign working if you swap gear
inventory items flickering in and out of existence
mobs killing through walls while unreachable
mobs going into infinite regeneration mid-fight (no, not evading)
instance bosses misfiring their skills and insta-gibbing the whole group
instance boss running out of the playable area
a different instance boss running out of another playable area
mission item permanently unobtainable if your inventory was full when you clicked it
mission item only activates AFTER the player relogs and re-does most of a mission
"walk through portal" final step of a multi-hour mission chain teleported me to a wrong location and therefore refused to complete

Add to this the fact that TSWL managed to BSOD my computer, a feat even games officially in Beta or Alpha can't usually attain, plus many many other freezes, CTDs and other flavors of fail. Hilariously, most of the bugs in Legends aren't new. They just haven't been fixed since TSW's launch five years ago. Legends simply duplicated and propagated existing problems and piled on with more serious crashes.

I filed a bug petition.
A week later a GM finally replied, apologizing for the delay.
Delay? Fifteen minutes is a reasonable timeframe. Half an hour to an hour is a serious delay. "Delayed" overnight is already pushing the boundaries of the term.
Putting your customers on hold for a solid week means you've capitulated running the show. You are now the joke.

At this point, I'm half in this for trainwreck appeal. This ain't opening night we're talking about, either. Nearly a month after Funcom's big re-launch of a five year old product, the bugs only seem to be multiplying. Hilariously, even that timeframe confuses new players. I've run into three starry-eyed young novices so far who've made comments like "wow, this game looks really good for having come out in 2002/2004/2007!" The very speed with which TSW rendered itself obsolete seems implausible and puts it barely a step above vaporware. When you hear of a re-launch, you picture something at least a decade old.

So what about the relaunch itself? Out with the old, in with the... old, again. As I recollect, soon after its 2003 launch, EVE-Online scandalized its players by rolling back server and character data about a week. It was seen as a shameful display of incompetence. Funcom has now pulled a five-year rollback, dragging all its most faithful customers through the same inane instance-farming marathon all over again. Pragmatically, this serves the function of reconnecting a minute (and continually dwindling) playerbase fragmented by their relative positions on the years-long WoW-clone MMO iterative gear-accumulation treadmill. Just don't expect Funcom to admit that openly. Also don't expect them to admit to purposely slashing benefits for subscribers (and lifers) in favor of aggressively pushing their new pay-to-win cash shop currency "aurum."

The best that can be said of Legends is that it at long last resolved TSW's woefully unbalanced, redundant chore of a skill system, and in all fairness the new interface is much smoother, more intuitive and responsive. Unfortunately, Legends achieves this end by throwing out most of TSW's leeway for player choice, skill variety and synergy. Weapons' effects no longer interact with each other and with target-lock removed from the interface, combat resolves to hitting whatever's in front of you - literally. While it's easier to get into, it's also more dumbed down than ever.

As for new content, there is none. There may be, in the future. Honestly, seeing how bugged the new old content is, I'd love to see them try to implement some new-new zones and instances just for the faceplant comedy value. While considering what tone I'd take with this post I at first thought I'd praise the development team for actually putting an impressive amount of work into Legends. The new tutorial works flawlessly, I must admit. Then, bugs aside (many, many bugs aside) I remembered my own complaints on this blog from three, even four years ago that TSW's updates had quickly diminished to plain text, a trend only partly interrupted by the two Tokyo expansions. While Legends might look impressive in one glance, it represents years of absent balancing or content updates, years of TSW trying to drown its customers in mindlessly repetitive timesinks (AEGIS upgrades, scenarios, the Museum of the Occult) while never addressing its gameplay issues.

When these long-overdue fixes to their shoddy work finally came, they came bundled with renewed demands that players pay into the cash shop for a "new" re-branded product which so far amounts to even less than the old. But hey, their loyal customers are still rushing to create third-party interface cheats to make up for the game's inadequacies, because as previously noted, it's entirely possible to be both incompetent and crooked in the game industry yet still draw a crowd of enthusiastic slaves from gamers.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

C Larsen; C Larsen Run

"Oceans slowly rise
Time to fly"

Syntax - Time to Fly

Isn't it funny that a trillion tons of ice riding the ocean currents count as just one tiny datum in the overwhelming berg of evidence as to how irreparably fucked we are? And still, the glut of apes thickens. Just little caplets of ice poking above the flood of idiocy in our "news" media, floating out of sight, out of mind. We've got bigger fish to fry.
Until we don't.

Run, monkeys, run.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Princess Brooks

The Princess Bride was not a great movie. There, I said it. Fire tomatoes at will.

I'll grant that in its better moments it managed to straddle the line between trite starry-eyed faery-telling and obnoxiously nitpicky deconstructionism, to denote both self-awareness and dedication to its subject matter. Still, on the whole its fan-base seems to spend more time quoting the flick's various catchphrases than watching it, because to actually watch it is to be exposed to the massive amount of filler between those one-liners. It's the sort of movie which can make falling down a mountainside look tedious by dwelling on the stunt doubles' every single tumble. Every monologue is a line too long, every pause a second too pregnant, every line of exposition stretched to two, every establishing shot a few frames over-exposed. This does not negate its many memorable moments, but it does dilute them unnecessarily. Call me a disorderly attention-deficient child of the internet age if you must, but there's simply too little going on in every scene, too little information density to trap my awareness.

I don't know whether Rob Reiner was infected by this directing style via his father's collaboration with Mel Brooks, because the closest analogy I can think of would be Brooks' own films. Yeah, we can rave about all the hilarious one-liners in Spaceballs or History of the World but that's ignoring the miles of dead air between them, cluttered with minor characters making faces at the camera. Once you get the basic joke of sparking a giant doobie, said doobie's on-screen presence itself is just not that impressive. Nor is the bad guys' repetition of "we've got to get them." Too little challenges our expectations, too little detail sparks mental connections.

This does not resolve to a simple generational fad, either, or budget constraints. The Monty Python movies came out a decade prior, with less funding and more lines, jokes and new ideas. And sure, Princess Bride wasn't primarily comedic like Brooks' parodies, but it still seems to follow the same school of thought in constantly condescending to the audience's slow reaction time. It shows a mental separation between performer and audience, the carnie's disdain for the marks.

How well this feature translates into the internet age is anyone's guess. Optimism would dictate that closer dialogue by creators with their audience would eliminate it, yet cynical awareness of one's virtual surroundings begs the question: how many bloggers, vloggers, webcartoonists, pod-casters and youtube personalites wrap their scripts in slow, overwrought redundancy to make sure you rubes get the punchline?

Thursday, July 13, 2017

I'm very random sometimes.
Sometimes is the best times to be random.

Monday, July 10, 2017

What's HoT, What's DoT and What's Not

The Secret World was re-launched a few weeks ago (more on the "new" version's merits some other time) so after a year's absence I've been chugging along, replaying all the old missions. Hey, at least it's less of a grind than TSW's pathetic excuse for "end-game" content, endlessly repeating the same three instances.

In the due course of "second verse, same as the first" I happened to glance at some loading screen hints informing me of a very helpful "feature." Maybe it's new, maybe it's been around a while and I never noticed. Apparently, re-casting a Healing/Damage Over Time ability on the same target will automatically complete the prior cast's healing or damage remaining on the clock.

By what definition are these abilities "over time" then? The main point of the "over time" concept is to make you consider your timing, ensuring you're not wasting resources on redundancy or long-term spells for short-term targets. Yes, you should have to think about that. Those incapable of such tactical planning should fail. Hard. Retards should suffer.

I'm painfully aware this is no isolated example. The entire history of online games since 2000 or so has been a nonstop dumbing-down and oversimplification. Older games feature epic lists of missing features, gameplay mechanics eliminated or trivialized into uselessness for fear of scaring away the mindless, spineless, clueless mass-market casual filth. Breakable crowd control, specific buffs / debuffs with specific counters, resource management, fairness, group combos, player influence on the game map, stat balancing, long-term character specialization choices, roleplaying choices, organized raids, specific gear use beyond mere stat buffs, self-sacrifice, "no classes, no levels" and anything and everything gets gutted from each game in turn to draw in the mouthbreathing, knuckledragging, brainless sub-sentient human trash incapable of even counting five seconds on their DoT's timer.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Barik Echoes

"Has he lost his mind?
Can he see or is he blind?
Can he walk at all
Or if he moves will he fall?

Is he live or dead?
Has he thoughts within his head?"

Black Sabbath - Iron Man

Minor spoiler: Tyranny, Barik


When I evaluated Torment: Tides of Numenera I said it fails to live up to its claim as successor to Planescape: Torment, and I stand by that. Aside from other aesthetics, the various personalities you meet tend to stop short of the monomaniacal stature of the original tormented. Tides' antivillainess can't hold a candle to the inscrutably sadistic Ravel and your companions seem hopelessly hopeful, lacking that pleasingly pervasive expectation of doom, of sliding inexorably down the universe's undertow.

Tyranny's no match for the original Torment either, but its grim setting allows for a bit more thematic overlap. For example, take your (archetypically) loyal walking panzer, Barik, permanently stuck within a tangle of metal slabs and coils wrapped around him by the monstrous strength of a magical storm. (For bonus villain points, you can actually become the proximate cause of Barik's doom during the pre-game roleplaying choices.) Barik's plight gets played off as sort of a running gag in various dialogues, a gag which grows increasingly macabre as you gain an understanding of just how debilitating his "condition" is - culminating in this dialogue:

Torment fans will probably facepalm at that point and wonder how they didn't see it  coming all along. Barik is basically another Vhailor, a modern fantasy version of El Cid Campeador riding into battle indifferent to pre-existing health conditions like death. He achieves this status more successfully than Qara from NWN2 in her role as proto-Ignus, unhampered by NWN2's kid-friendly limitations. Barik will not die so long as his cause lives.

We met the characters from Torment in their decline, the entire plot consisting of a denouement of lifetimes' worth of adventuring and power struggles. There's a lot of potential in revisiting those archetypes in the making, elaborating the kind of personae and plot twists which can make an Ignus or a Vhailor. One can imagine a Tyranny sequel set centuries after the first, coming across a hollow humanoid form of rusted, tangled metal bands which suddenly booms: "I have... AWAKENED!"

Now, what I'd really like to meet is a proto-Ravel, in the process of weaving herself into her power. Better yet, I'd like to play her.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

From Wells to Fargo

"Capitalism has made it this way
Old-fashioned fascism will take it away"

Marilyn Manson - The Beautiful People

Happy firecracker day everyone!

Ah, yes, yesterday Americans celebrated their peaceable economic acumen by wasting lots of money on makin' big boom-boom. Which differs from the usual routine in keeping the boom-boom at home instead of tossin' it over the neighbors' fence. But it's all done politely, you see. Every SUV now comes with a fainting couch in a sensory deprivation chamber, should any members of Generation Facebook decide to feel micro-aggressed by pigeons crapping on their windshield.
Damn you! Let the robins wear diapers! Save our brothers! Can I get an amen? Can I get a hallelujah?!

Of course, not too long ago in your great-great-grandparents' time, Western society found itself sclerotized by another crop of oversensitive moral dictators fastidious to the point of paralysis. Remember, chickens have dark or white meat, never legs or breasts, and Queen Victoria died in 1901. In the decade before that, H.G. Wells wrote his most famous science fiction books: The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man, The Island of Doctor Moreau. Of his career in the four decades after that, most of us haven't heard a peep. Several years ago, I opened up a volume of his complete works to revisit time travel and topped that off with another and another, becoming weirdly fascinated by the path his writing took.

To some extent, Wells' grasp on his own narratives does seem to have loosened. For one thing, his growing obsession with aircraft litters his books with somewhat tedious rhapsodizing on the glory of flight, play-by-play commentary on imaginary aerial combat, convoluted visuals of airplane shapes (most of them ludicrously impractical) etc. The War in the Air is, unsurprisingly, the worst offender in this, yet still manages to overcome it through some chilling prognostication of World War I a decade before it struck. Wells saw the inevitable in the endless build-up of armed forces and armaments which would, by virtue of their very existence, manage to get themselves used at some point. To the man who later coined the phrase "the war to end all war" the system of alliances and global empires only needed a spark of good old Prussian bellicosity to yield the inevitable conclusion. Even if he overstated the immediate importance of aircraft, it only took another three decades for reality to catch up to him, for WWII to become a "war in the air" between the Luftwaffe and RAF, an interweaving of carpet-bombings.

But as eerie as The War in the Air can be to read on its own, it's freakier in the context of Wells' better written, non-SF novel Tono-Bungay, describing the decline of English society. In the rise to fame and fortune of confidence artists selling patent "medicines" and manipulating the economy of an entire nation you find the socio-economic substructure of the military-industrial complex. The willful ignorance of the public, the commoners' enthusiasm in reducing themselves to numbers in the balance sheets of the rich, the eagerness to believe "the big lie" all screech gleefully from Wells' pages at you in recognition. The society Wells described was the last gasp of the Victorian era, with its insecure rising crust constantly vying for a seat on the latest bandwagon. The very model of modern major-generals had already been set at the height of Victoria's reign in 1879, after all, an archetype of aesthetics divorced from reality. Fashions came in the mail, and the mail came often, from places exotically uncivilized.

So here we stand now, a century and a smidge later. Yuppies drink their "fair"-traded coffee out of disposable recyclables and every university student can recite the latest talking points of social activism but not yesterday's chemistry lecture. Snooty grocery stores fill entire aisles with Tono-Bungays by the barrel-full: homeopathy, naturopathy, voodoo-opathy, patheticopathy, you name it and we'll drink it, because reality's all in the nomenclature. Everything's a War On- and everything's a -gate, everything's a scandal, mock and weep to taste. Titles are bought, futures sold on credit. The 2008 crash made uncle Ponderevo look like an amateur, and everyone decries the costly and impractical space program while Lockheed Martin rises in the polls. Everyone wants to give money to the poor, and the diamond industry expects a steady growth of 2-5% per year.

Add to all this Wells' earlier musings on the unmooring of youthful aspirations in The Wheels of Chance in 1896, the youths who presumably, a decade later, invested in Tono-Bungay: "And when we open the heads of these two young people, we find, not a straightforward motive on the surface anywhere; we find, indeed, not a soul so much as an oversoul, a zeitgeist, a congestion of acquired ideas, a highway's feast of fine, confused thinking." 
Look at the snowflakes, at Generation Facebook, the Bunthornes of our time, the coming collapse, a hermetically sealed world of pre-chewed opinions, so breathlessly enthralled by fad and posturing, each a knight in shining armor, each flying as many banners as they can grab from each other: "spiritual" / "progressive" / "pro-life" / "animal, right?" / "feminist" / "ellgeebeateeovertheheadee" / "athlete" / "organizer" and a hundred other titles and orders in their own self-described aristocracy. Crinolines or yoga pants, their skills nonetheless restricted to feinting and fainting, this is a world which ranks "manspreading" somewhere above beheadings as cause for condemnation. Our panem comes sliced (though no-one knows by whom) and our circenses Olympically intersectional: little brown dogs chase little black Sambos through the rings to the cracking of Mrs. Steinem-Dworkin-Grundy's tightly-gripped rainbow whip.

And oh, the juiciest little tidbit's what's been growing in the cracks, the festering sores behind the carefully posed lace fans:
Decades of overly-polite moral repression, policed speech, padded corners and childproof caps, facetious niceness, taboo reality, mask the reactionary upswing until it connects. Are we talking about the first half of the 20th or 21st century? The British Empire, The Continent or The Colonies? Are we looking at the "big and blond and virile" Teutonic air-pirate prince of The War in the Air with his bird-faced attendant, or at a fire-haired robber baron and his born-again evangelical Catholic sidekick? Cossacks or cowboys? Does it matter?

After the capitulation of the intelligentsia to their own credulity and mysticism over the past few decades, how many rabble-rousing tribal traditionalists, how many snake-oil-peddling confidence artists, have sprung up over the past few years in one election and referendum after another in the U.S., in Britain and the rest of Europe? So in tune with the tribal primitivism of the invasive third world they claim to hate, both echoing off each other, amplifying each other, the waves syncing up. Sarajevo, Sudetenland, Syria, all sounds sorta similar. And, with the military build-up and hollow-centered worldwide usury-based economy growing unrestricted behind the scenes, are we now in Wells' position, staring down the inevitable?

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Blob my barbarian bears

My recent complaints about the simplistic, uncreative aliens in the turn-based strategy game Pandora: First Contact bring to mind the consistent lack of creativity in game monsters as a whole. Even RPGs with slightly artsy aspirations like Torment: Tides of Numenera will promise an astounding world of mind-bending futurosity, then restrict themselves to little green men and painfully trite black slimy tentacle monsters. It's especially jarring when a game promotes itself as the spiritual successor to a title it can't even manage to imitate, as Pandora does. Alpha Centauri's ersatz nerve runners didn't just benefit from a solid backstory and flavor text. They interacted with terrain (hiding in fungus) and reacted to player activity.

So in what other ways might we move past the gimmick of "a barbarian bear" using standard movement mechanics and unit stats?

What about monsters coalescing from smaller constituents? Say two mind worm boils randomly enter the same square. They coalesce into a larger boil with the unique property of attracting more boils from any neighboring square into itself. As it grows its attractive range grows as well. Should be easy to implement in a flat turn-based TBS like the Civilization games and their clones: add another square or hex to its radius of effect. Maybe such brain vermin might gain more abilities and not just stats as the swarm grows. It should be particularly amusing combined with invisibility mechanics or simple fog of war. Breathe a sigh of relief as monsters seem to wander out of your lands only to be blindsided by their re-emergence as an unstoppable wave of destruction.

Easily adapted to less sci-fiyish settings as well. Substitute "charismatic leader." Maybe the rebels that spring up in your lands flock to a particular Luke Skywalker, boosting his army.

Or hey, why don't we make better use of that classic of B-horror, The Blob? Give me a blob that doesn't just grow in stats ("experience points") as it grows, but literally grows, taking up more and more squares / hexes as it engulfs your units, terrain improvements and bases.

What else, let's see...
Why can't we adapt those noise-sensitive, sessile tentacles from the first Half-Life to TBS? Place an invincible (or nearly so) and immobile monster on the game map, capable of striking at any of the hexes surrounding it. Scale its aggression with nearby potential targets' ... movement speed, let's say, as a stand-in for noise. So it would swat at any fast-rolling batmobiles but infantry units would slowly trudge past in relative safety. Maybe it tolerates any quiet terrain improvements but attacks any noisy / polluting industrial areas, imposing a quiet amishy farming lifestyle in its surrounding terrain.

Also, why don't flying monsters make nests? I don't mean regular monster spawners, but that wandering neutral monsters should, ida know, lay an egg or something every once in a while. Bring the egg back to base before it hatches in x turns, and you got yourself a tame monster unit.

Turn-based strategy games seem a fairly sterile, stiff medium, but even here there's so much room for creativity outside the expectations of the unthinking.