Thursday, March 29, 2018

ST:TNG - Sins of the Toys

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: 3.17
Sins of the Father

(or: Days of Our Klingon Lives)

More head crests = moar! powarrr!

The smug one up front's called Kurn. In an unusual continuity callback all the way to Seriesdate 1.20 Kurn takes Riker's place aboard the Enterprise as part of the Klingon-Federation officer / cultural / experience exchange and baked goods raffle.
Or something.

Kurn's Klingon Kommanding pisses off most of the crew. He also goads Worf into a confrontation by... ignoring him while disciplining everyone else, thereby wounding Worf's pride. Nice touch. Turns out Kurn's Worf's long-lost baby bro, yo (and probably has amnesia and slept with his wife, while we're operating soaps) so we completely drop the storyline about the officer exchange to segue to Klingon courtroom drama.

Worf and Kurn's father, Mogh, has been posthumously accused of treason by inciting the attack at... Kittomer? Khitomar? Ketomar? Katamari Damacy?

Kittymuck, that's what it's called: Kittymuck. The tragic Romulan attack on Kittymuck station, which also left Worf an orphan. Spoiler alert, the hero's honored father's in fact innocent. The real scoop at Kittymuck was that the accuser's own father pooped up the defensive grid, littering it with Romulans. But being as his family's of bluer blood, the Klingon in kharge fears civil war if they should be accused and instead scapegoated the family of the conveniently expatriate Worf.
In the end, the mystery's solved by some fancy computer geekery aboard the Enterprise and the testimony of Worf's old nanny. Yes, Klingon brats have nannies. They don't just chestburst out of their mothers, Bat'leth in hand, ready to smite their enemies.
(They really only get a small dagger... I mean, they're only fetuses after all.)

It would be easy to handwave all such operatics aside, were it not rather relevant to the developing Star Trek universe. The basic premise of the Klingons is that of a warrior race, space samurai, which filtered through the intellectual rigor of a 45-minute TeeVee serial translated as petty thugs. Though obviously aware of the need to flesh them out a bit, TNG's various writers still pigeonholed Worf, episode after episode, roaring at the ceiling or getting his nipples cattle-prodded to show how tough he is.

You have to wonder how such a species of Jocko Homos would ever make it out to space in the first place, much less pose an organized threat to any other race. Here, finally, we see them capable of resolving disputes without combat and occasionally placing the greater good above pecking order.


Seriesdate: 3.22
The Most Toys

(You know, the one with the disruptor pistol that tortures people to death from the inside.)
Data's been botnapped!
An interstellar trader named Kivas Fajo fakes a planetary disaster, a resource shortage and shuttlecraft accident, all to steal Data for his collection of unique specimens. Data refuses to play dress-up or sit pretty. Thus Fajo dissolves Data's military onesie and threatens to kill an innocent bystander. Said innocent bystander is his assistant. Being female, she of course is portrayed as only a blameless victim of her evil, evil male boss, ultimately turns a one-eighty and attempts to help Data escape. They're caught and Fajo vaporizes her with the banned torture disruptor, stage right. And that's where it gets interesting, as Data turns that same weapon against Fajo (just as the Enterprise is teleporting him out, because we can't have a hero actually shooting anyone on television.)

Of course it bears asking why Fajo wasn't written as a Ferengi, as the species was custom-made for such antics, but that's neither here nor there. Maybe the actor wanted his face more visible. Maybe the Ferengi were enough of a one-trick pony already without piling on. See the very similar kidnapping episode involving Troi's mother.

In broad strokes, the plot approaches comic book simplicity. Scene by scene, though, the dialogue reveals new depths to Data's intellectual integrity, honesty and ethical standards. His initial gentlemanly passive resistance to his captor's demands, his declared refusal or inability to kill except defensively, progress to a conscious decision to rid the universe of an obvious villain. Ah, but what truly elevates this story past any comparable TV SF plot is the ambiguity of Data's moral development. While scrupulously honest to his captor throughout his ordeal, refusing to play along and earn his trust, our positronic positivist lies to Riker at the end about having attempted to kill Fajo.

Can a little white lie be worse than murder? Fajo repeatedly taunts Data about his emotional inability to rage and avenge his own gruesome murder of his accomplice just moments earlier. Yet simple animal fury or self-interest are not the only motives for an execution. When Data finally pulls the trigger, it's as a rational, informed choice to stop a much greater wrong: Fajo's continued villainous career. In comparison, his little white lie at the end is ostensibly both much less harmful and even justifiable. After all, what good would be served by having himself court-martialed for the attempted murder of a civilian?

And yet... his lie targets Riker and O'Brien, betraying the implicit trust of crewmates. It is, unlike the murder, perpetrated primarily if not even entirely in self-interest. It masks the alarming mental changes he has undergone, and in someone routinely responsible for steering a spaceship, an altered mental state might pose no small concern.

For better or worse, Data has changed.


To me, both episodes above are true classics of the series (though not my personal favorites.) All the bitching I've done until now about stupid writing, acting, special effects, stupid writing, editing, cheap moralizing and more stupid writing seem to have largely vanished. Sure, by the standards of written SF printed around 1990 this all seems tiresomely buffoonish, but compare it to most any other TV series in the golden age of Baywatch and Saved by the Bell. Then remember that intellectual expectations for Star Trek, based on the original series, had been if anything even lower than for a teen comedy...

The guest stars for both episodes helped greatly. Saul Rubinek was annoying enough as Daphne's annoying brother on Frasier, but the same spazzy wide-eyed over-emoting worked wonders for a one-episode Caligula act. Tony Todd, whose ludicrously prolific career includes the eminently non-spazzy, critical-eyed, modestly emoting anthropologist in The Man from Earth, lent that same moderation to his stiff, collected, self-possessed Klingon officer.

And moderation is the key word here. In both cases, details are not simply added to the characters' basic personae, but the main dimension of these personae is scaled back. Both Data and the Klingons suffer a pigeonhole widening (as I believe the scholarly dramaturgical phrase goes) to fit more nuance. The Klingons gain a legal and political system and Data gains the ability to act impulsively. This involves losing some chest-thumping and some inflexibility, respectively.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Dead State

"The crawling mice in suits and ties
Are blind to what makes this thing beautiful"

Kill Hannah - Is Anyone Here Alive?

You know what phrase ticks me off? "Cast: in order of appearance." Like it makes any sense whatsoever for movie studios to do that. No, I do not give a crap what the one-eyed, cigar-smoking janitor's name was in those first five seconds with the opening credits still rolling. There are indeed small roles. Wouldn't be so bad, however, if it were at least a stable system, if the worldwide movie industry would just make up its damn mindless and stick with one cast order.

Dead State features a gigantic roster of NPC party members a la Baldur's Gate / Mount & Blade, to whom the player may assign jobs or whom the player may select to accompany him on expeditions into the Great Unknown (a.k.a. central Texas.) On one screen they're listed by the order in which they join your group. On another they're listed in alphabetical order. Why? Why not? Though Dead State has been rightly criticized for its fair share of industry-standard bugginess and incompleteness on release, much of its inherent frustration stems from this sort of rando' bullcrap you'd expect from an undergraduate code-monkey proudly slapping his first "game" together.

Camera angles constantly change of their own accord when switching party members. While this is obviously intended as a feature, its lack of any transition makes it more jarring and confusing than helpful and more often than not it interposes walls in the players view angle instead of avoiding them.

You can increase your allies' happiness with gifts, as in Dragon Age. Problem? No mood display in conversation or on mouse-over or in any other way easily accessible. You have to bring up your goals screen and scroll down to find each individual ally, then go back to your main base screen.

The interface, overall, is so clumsy as to warrant the same condemnation as the pathetically trite Homeworld copycat ORB: everything takes an extra click. Loot can sometimes be drag-dropped... and sometimes it can't. Inventory overflow prompts a pop-up window instead of floating text, forcing you to close it every time you're a gram over your limit. All the more frustrating since, as with ally mood, your limit is not displayed in the loot window... only your inventory window... even though they're the Same. Fucking. Window! Argh!
This one hits particularly hard, as Dead State centers on loot acquisition: mountains and mountains of junk critical to the welfare of your post-apocalyptic shelter, looted from literally thousands of containers and corpses... none of whom display their looted / unlooted status visually... each of which must be looted individually... even when they're stacked... prompting you to select them through a drop menu... which will be different from pixel to pixel even in the same game tile depending on whether a corpse's character model has a toe or eyebrow under your cursor... invisibly, under five other corpses.
Seriously, this is not the work of a "veteran game developer" as Mitsoda bills himself, unless the only thing he learned from his time at Troika was how to release a ludicrously half-baked mess of an unprofessional excuse for a program. Given his time at Obsidian, you'd think he'd have picked up at least a hint of what became Pillars of Eternity's streamlined loot system.

Add to this Dead State's very, very basic graphics, which fail to outshine even the first Fallout titles in anythig but pixel count - and even so glitch out constantly with stuck animations and prone enemies becoming untargetable and enemies in doorways becoming invisible.

Add the over-reliance on the game manual, with no in-game reference list of commands or features. I went through my first playthrough without finding the means to trade items between characters or swap their positions in combat.

Add the uneven writing, often reminiscent of Bloodlines' quality (Parisa's dialogues for instance are spot-on, and rather engaging) but as often as not perfunctory high school drama club theatrics. The crisis events are just terribly stilted. Goes hand in hand with a tendency to shoehorn in social justice commentary (Paul the wonder-queer and Karen the post-apocalyptic abortion activist.) Add to that an over-reliance on goofy Edgar Wright inspired humor (castles, knights, Doug's battle cries) which more fractures than offsets an otherwise quite grim setting.


Now that I've completely trashed the game, I'm going to try to convince you to buy it.
Like Troika's games, there is some very real substance buried under Dead State's interposing interface, bugginess and lack of attention to necessary details. DoubleBear Productions? I want you to succeed. SEEK HELP!

Marketed as "the zombie RPG" (its executable name is actually zrpg) Dead State manages to incorporate so many other elements that it makes me nostalgic for the early nineties, before computer game genres were set in stone.

Yes, it's largely an RPG, with both physical attributes and upgradeable skills. It's also a base-building game, to a much greater extent than NWN2 and related RPG fortresses have ever been. The supplies you haul back from the RPG hack'n'slash portion of your travels serve mainly to upgrade and stock your base of operations, your shelter, the high school you build up with a working tool shop, infirmary, rooftop gardens, etc. This in turn serves as the setting for most of your roleplaying, as your NPC companions love to hate your choices and will often demand favoritism. This in turn feeds back into the action portion of the game, as managing your growing coterie's whiny psychopathy is crucial to your combat and base maintenance success in rotating your NPCs to exploration and back from day to day.

That exploration itself falls somewhere in the Baldur's Gate middle ground between open worlds and linear story-based RPGs.
The overland map offers numerous locations from cozy cookie-cutter suburbia to supermarkets, malls, campgrounds, packaging plants, other failed shelters and military bases. Though Dead State abides by the generic game settings of grasslands and warehouses, it at least manages to own it. Random encounters are frequent and integrated into roleplaying throgh the "survival" skill.Enough effort was placed into level design to offer both unique challenges and opportunities (like luring the undead to your enemies to wear them down) and a surprising amount of variety within the suburban / small town monotony of Splendid and its surroundings.

It does suffer some pacing issues. The early game is just brutal in its focus on improvised weaponry and lack of body armor, while the more challenging portions of the late game tend to rely on sticking your party into frustrating choke points. Otherwise, with a fully-built base and some customized military-grade equipment you can pretty much mop the floor with full squads of mercenary soldiers. The "recycler" base upgrade is too blatantly crucial to getting enough early-game materials to build everything you need. In contrast, by late game you'll have accumulated enough loot and preserved food to feed and house an entire town, and so far I've found no big capstone projects on which to burn said loot. By end game, you'll also have acquired so many skill points as to be not only a jack but a master of all trades.

That character advancement's itself quite intriguing, following Bloodlines' premise of awarding experience points not for killing but for completing objectives. Unfortunately it's marred by those objectives' most frequent nature: amassing loot... which boils down to obsessively Hoovering each and every zone of each and every last item, no matter how trivial.

The combat sytem's quite good, obviously inspired by the first Fallout. Ranged weapons vary in their utility, availability of ammunition, ease of use, stealth, range, magazine sizes and reload times, everything you could want. Melee weapons actually have three different ranges, with two-handers being able to hit diagonally where one-handers only reach in a cross shape and long-reach polearms hitting an extra square away. The difference between damage types is quite relevant to fighting either bashable zombies or anything which can bleed. You can even use shields with your one-hander, with an active defense option turning you into satisfyingly damage-soaking immovable object able to kill enemies through mere retaliation while standing your ground. Most of your allies will panic in combat if severely wounded or faced with the undead, which can be mitigated in at least three ways. Add to this a full array of grenade-like items, from firecrackers to actual grenades, single-use weapons like tazers, military grade timed explosives and land mines, status effects from accuracy and dodging debuffs to fatigue, panic and zombie infection, and special damage effects like chemical and fire, and you've got a combat system much more engaging than anything you'll see in RPGs short of Mount & Blade.

Aesthetically, Dead State is rather spare, but what's there suits its post-apocalyptic down-home Southern barbecue theme. Voice acting is unfortunately suspiciously absent, save for combat grunts and some idle animation hemming and hawing. Its music (though it could have been more diverse) is appropriately bleak and minimalist, reminiscent of STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl and many of its improvised weapons, armor, bases of operation, barricades and other decor are all apt to its central theme.

A great deal of very nerdy rational thought went into this zombie survival / roleplaying / basebuilding / turn-based tactical / strategy exploration adventure, and most if not all of its problems come of wallowing in its by now standard indie title incompleteness. At its core lies an interesting and unique, if half-finished, game.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Mare Internum

If the last webcomic I referenced hearkens back to the late 1940s, Mare Internum's more of a throwback to the late 1800s and SF's first popular flourishing in Verne and Wells' tales of exploration. Unfortunately, it's also undermined by a lack of attention to the interesting details of what is actually found in said internal sea and a growing inordinate fawning over victimology. A gay geologist and a Nigerian entomologist fall through the surface of Mars. Gruesome hilarity ensues.

Though reasonably evocative of its alien environments and occasional body horror elements, Mare Internum suffers some jarring timeskips in its action, often at the most dramatic moments. The tension and wonder of a first contact, the period of mental adjustment when thrust into a new environment, all the drama and pathos inherent in exploration stories seems to be largely lost on this author. Instead, the more the story drags on, the more it takes on the mawkish talking points of snowflake propaganda.

That at least one of the protagonists is not from one of the G7 countries comes as a welcome surprise. Then again, this is because it can simply be elided smoothly while dealing with more relevant action. A Nigerian cricket farmer is just another cricket farmer. That the other protagonist's gay makes no never mind either, initially; so what? It's his insanity, his desperation, his involvement in the exploration project that matter.

It's much harder to justify half a chapter dealing with Mike's childhood sexual abuse, given how completely superfluous this is to an already endearing character coming unhinged over losing his career. Worse, the latest page to go up has Bex apparently launching into some hair-rending monologue on the difficulties of being a "strong woman" and spouting social justice catchphrases like "accept my inherent humanity" all the while both characters increasingly ignore the world-shaking scientific revelations on which they're sitting. Even more interesting is the author's own interpretation beneath today's strip:
"Overwhelmingly she’s been the subject of a lot of scrutiny and angry comments despite Mike being the way worse of the two, behaviorally… It’s been very interesting to watch, and a little sad too."

Wow, really? It should be noted that Bex has so far jumped the gun at least twice and murdered two sentient beings. At least one of them gets better, but still... hard to see how anything Mike has done, despite his reckless self-destructiveness, is "way worse" except in the warped interpretation of modern politically correct posturing. Is he so irrevocably damned by his interpersonal micro-aggressions? Or does Bex as a black female simply outrank a gay white male in the oppression Olympics and is therefore entitled to have her actions excused?

By this point it seems largely irrelevant that we're even on (or rather in) the planet Mars altogether. This whiny babbling about who hurt the other's fee-fees could be taking place on any safe-zoned college campus.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Is the word "mannequin" culturally insensitive? Shouldn't it be womannequin or personnequin? Two-spirit-o'-quin? Or alternately eviloppressivepatriarchequin?

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Shifting Demographic - Level Up Yours

- and I'll level down mine, and I'll get to boredom afore ye.

"No classes, no levels" went the campaign promise of a whole slew of MMOs last decade, inevitably proven false as soon as one began grinding through the game in question. It was a promise appeasing older, experienced gamers' dissatisfaction with the endless treadmill of leveling through a leveled world. Removed from its twenty-deep tabletop DnD setting with its finite campaigns, this mechanic has proven at best extraneous and more appropriately counterproductive to persistent virtual worlds by separating and isolating players. Yet the levels persist, whether officially or in the form of upgradeable gear or hours of training time or any other shallow smokescreen.

In part this is mere inertia in an industry only marginally more creative than Hollywood, the remake capital of the world. Game designers grew up with level-based games and their copycatting, profiteering excuses for minds will not grow beyond levels.

In part this is mere pandering to base human instincts. Humans are primitive apes and human  happiness is "the feeling that power is growing and resistance is being overcome" as Nietzsche put it. While overcoming resistance is a logical part of any goal-driven game, players get much more readily addicted to mere shallow declarations of increasing power, to the soaring music and flashing effects of a LEVEL UP message.

However, it largely serves to control player behavior. Experience points and character advancement being the biggest motivator in DnD as well, online game developers have latched on to this carrot to stick the player firmly on their rails, to prevent the players from choosing their own paths. Some might say that such games (WoW-clones, mostly) only truly begin at maximum level (when the gear farming grind begins) but then we're still left with the obvious question of purpose. In this light, leveling up one's character to maximum would seem a mere extended tutorial. After all, MMOs (as the logical convergence of several previous genres) were originally some of the most vast and complex games around. Their learning curve, especially for the likes of EVE-Online or A Tale in the Desert, was notoriously steep, with intricate technology trees contextualizing all player action within a coherent microcosm.

Interestingly enough, it was not the more complex games which held fast to the leveling treadmill. In fact, the more dumbed down, linear and repetitive the game, the more likely it is to feature big flashy LEVEL UP effects. So levels as tutorial are less a consequence of an MMO's difficulty as of the expected stupidity of its target audience. Inevitably, as computer games shifted from their old nerdy audience of the late '90s to the mass market, simplistic hand-holding and pats on the back became more and more important. A "no classes, no levels" MMO would by necessity be an aggressively niche-oriented product.

The main question would be how to get the message out to the right niche. Maybe target fans of hard science fiction? Red Mars MMO, anyone?

Saturday, March 17, 2018

It's A Man's World

What'll you do for me love oh what'll you do
If I should condescend to stick it in you?
Do me a solid for my solid and do me a favor
Twenty carats per finger and keys to my Viper

Want the honor of mine in you?
Then head out to make my dreams true.
Tie a noose around your neck
Button up until you choke
Keep my picture on your desk
Earn for me until you're broke.

Let's agree you're a moron
I'll bear with you dramatically
Sighing my martyrdom
To your friends and your family.
Let's agree that you're primitive
And no woman can learn
But by the civilizing scorn
Of men by whom she's spurned.
Let's agree you're a criminal
Archon matrilineal
Your looks kill, mine only reveal
My right to your collateral

Forward! I'll cry from the rear
Your sacrifice cheer
Darling girl, save the world
While I sneer.

Want a chance at the snake?
Kneel - make it believable
One knee, one ring, one divorce, one check
To my glory payable

Long chase to the bone begs a pet most docile
Every step yours alone 'cause I'm oh so fragile.
I can't say the first word -
If you do it's harassment.
You retreat?
Then you're nothing, a girl-child, grow up
Keep aggressing until you're in tatters
Thrown in jail on my word for all your rights matter.
If I wake with regrets then it's rape; that's consent
By my lights, anyway
By my word and eye-waters.
Once more into the fray
Let's be friends, and just friends
Until *I* want a lay
Let's delay; keep you guessing
Auto da fe;
Got it wrong
Keep rehearsing.

Every Homo knows sex is not about sex
It's all in the wrist and the diamond bracelet
Want to feel?
Fifty dollars - per ball
And the higher that wall, the more you must praise
This obstacle course couched almighty "romance"
So step up your game
Swallow all my disdain
Weave it into my train
Swim the sky, span the sea
For a chance to touch - Me!

You want more?
You're a pig
You're a dog
You're a snake in the grass
You perverted brute lass.
If I call you, show up
When you do, you're a stalker
It's fun and it's safe this denial always plausible
This sperm-baited trap
This ownership marker
Works for me so let's make it your crucible

I'll set the hoops
But you'll do the jumping
Guess my mind or it's moot
Learn my praises to sing
Woo me and shoe me, your stallion demure.
If your wallet's not roomy enough to ensure
First class seats and a rush reservation
If your name earns no bows for me in the neighbourhood
If your free time's not slotted toward my elevation
Then you'd best pack for spinsterhood.
You build the house and I'll decorate it
Don't you dare raise your voice when you hear me berate
Your woman cave basement.
What'll you do for me love, oh what'll you do
If I should condescend to stick it in you?

edit 2018/03/20
Rearranged slightly because I think it flows better this way.

Friday, March 16, 2018


Your community: a bleached reef, bog or troglobity? I drift in and doubt inane doubt inaned out and need rift between me and you "ew"-in me while you drown beneath your sea of faces. Lose my traces of you, trace my losses to you, only you, all the you every you only one yous, schooling vortices in your sea while I drift in and out of your nibbling inanity. I bite, abate your piranha synchronicity, I gnash a more sonorous monody than all your monotonous choral carnivory. I drift through your cloud, seven billion proud, minnows sharking the shallows while depths boom with echoes of my lunar pedigree. See me stride tides to stand grand upon land barren of minds too oceanic who panic at solid footing while looting the tide pools of spools of lycanthrope fur calling it wool. Drool your saprophyte hopes while your drifting waste chokes stone in effluvial folklore, fucklore your fish-song and folkload your pre-frontal notochorduncity. While you school in "communities" fishies, we are not the same species.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Tangled River

Hey, the 1940s called, they want their drawing style back.

...Y'know, for an overused joke, I so rarely get to use that joke.

Anyway, Tangled River. Is a webcomic. Is clear. Is clean. Is sci. Is fi.
Is somewhat declarative.

Then again, that suits its general aesthetic. Like Freefall, Escape From Terra or A Miracle of Science, Tangled River owes a lot to the golden age of science fiction, when SF was just regaining a hard science edge. Though, really... can anything with humanoid "aliens" ever qualify as hard Scie Fie?

Tanya is the oldest "beta" or second-generation human on an alien planet inexplicably inhabited by an entire earthlike ecosphere complete with tribal stone-age "aliens" with pointy ears and face spots. Having the entire story narrated from her necessarily limited adolescent perspective imbues it with a forced but engaging sense of mystery aside from the usual "coming of age" schlock. Her world consists of chores and teenage dating drama and caring for her chronically depressed mother until she's called to adventure by a flaming portend in the sky, to plumb the mysteries of human technology's sudden failure and their expedition's fragmentation.

The target audience for this one's a bit hard to pin down, if it even has one. Drawing style: clean, well-proportioned, but on the other hand theatrical. A teenage heroine might indicate a teenage market, but the story moves much too leisurely, nonviolently and non-romantically for that. A "coming of age" story might indicate a condescending adult audience looking down their noses at youth, but Tanya's a surprisingly level-headed and respectable girl, all-in-all. General tone and pacing might indicate sedate hard science fiction, but its pointy-eared "alien" setting undercuts that and fails to deliver the constant technoporn one might expect.

The best I can situate it is teetering awkwardly between Robinson's Red Mars and Heinlein's Podkayne of Mars, though really even that's an unfair comparison. (Also: distinct lack of Mars.) Despite all it might be said to lack, despite its seeming initial simplicity, Tangled River holds together well enough on the merit of its own mix of interpersonal and interplanetary intrigue. It can't lack what it doesn't need. If you like old-school space pioneer stories, this one's for you.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Gigantic knives win gun fights

I spoke about the recent AoS derivative game Gigantic some time ago, so I won't go into much detail now. As it's being scuttled by its parent company by this July*, I might as well get a couple of posts about its more salient features in under the wire.

Those, my poor quality-deprived friends, are choices!

So-called MOBAs, being dumbed down from the original Starcraft / Warcraft custom RTStrategy maps to suit the fast-fingered, slow-brained tastes of whiny mass-market millennial trash, tend to lack tactically-relevant customization options. I don't care if it's DotA2, LoL or Smite. Even buying gear is almost always a straight climb up a blatantly obvious upgrade ladder. Some of the less known or newer titles like Prime World or Paragon offer much more pre-game customization through collectible card decks, but even they're pretty weak on letting players adapt after match start.

Gigantic, on the other hand, appended miniature two-deep skill trees to heroes' combat abilities, plus a choice of specializing in one of three abilities at level five. Some of these are mere damage or resistance upgrades while others can radically alter how an ability functions, adding force fields, teleportation, etc. More interestingly, they resisted the urge to make every choice valid for every match, thus qualifying as one of the few development teams to realize that "situational" is not a dirty word. The character above is a high-damage melee assassin / bruiser type, so for most matches the bonus damage option with the added stun is the obvious choice, hands down. Occasionally, you'll be fighting a tank-heavy team and the armor break will be more important. Rarely, very rarely, you'll be fighting a firing squad team.

Quite satisfying to stand in front of three idiot parasitic snipers -not killing them- cracking your whip above your head, tanking enough damage to kill you five times over while your teammates whittle them down. Suck my iconoclasm, bitches.

* I'm well aware this may just be a publicity stunt by the company, as developers rarely give such long warning. Still, the game was intriguing enough to warrant publicity.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

To all my fellow Proctors

"Bolt of lighting out of the blue
Without forewarning the heat is on you"

MDFMK - Witch Hunt

The accusation of "overacting" is most often justified. Our contemporary socially just and politically correct society has after all been, for the past three decades, an overemotional and over-emoting milieu which breeds just such actors. This begs at least some mention, though, of situations in which "over"-acting is merely an accurate representation of a ludicrous situation.

Over and under are relative terms. Supervillains (and sometimes heroes) would likely make for appropriate grandiloquence. However, you also occasionally see the likes of the 1996 adaptation of The Crucible criticized, specifically Daniel Day-Lewis and his monumental rendition of Proctor's "because it is my naaaaame" speech. Over the top, you say?

Anyone who says so seems to be ignoring the play's social context, and I don't just mean the McCarthy anticommunist paranoia which it parodied. Even if tempted to reference the infamous Puritan self-restraint, let's not forget the characters in this play are embroiled in an honest-to-goodness WITCH HUNT!!! Their entire society was over-acting. Hard to go over the top with a source of inspiration which lacks a top, which by definition has thrown all moderation to the wind and is busily fratriciding itself into oblivion. Sometimes a cigar is a nuke you just have to ride to its destination.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Rhetorical Morbidity

Consider the exact nature of the back alley in which you'll die. Speculate on its dimensions, openness, cohabitants, textures and chemical additives. When you're lying there, shivved or collapsing from unhospitalized organ failure, how will it smell? When you're too weak from starvation to keep from shitting your pants from the filthy water you've been drinking, will it really worsen your surroundings?

Picture its slimy, abraded brickwork. Is the slime of human biological origin? Or is it mold or chemical runoff or bird feces or the simple accumulation of degeneration? Does the spot in which your decaying body has crumpled lie within line of sight of the street? Can you see each passer-by pointedly ignoring you? Can you see their step quicken at your pathetic whimpers? Are there others in the alleyway with you, off the beaten path? Are they beating you? To death or just for kicks? Maybe a broken pallet is providing the tools of their trade. Are you beyond caring about splinters as the plank rakes down from the top of your skull, opening your cheek? Can you taste the fresh air? Did that loose nail dig enough into your back to puncture your kidney? Is the pain worse than the ceaseless grinding and swelling of your already moribund viscera?

What are they shouting at you, as they laugh?
Or just Loser?
Is each condemnation punctuated by a kick? Does one of them grab the few hairs you have left, dragging them from your scalp smeared red to lift your head and spit in your face?

Are there windows in the walls lining the alley? Do you glimpse impassive spectators shadowing the cheap, filmy glass?

At which point do you actually die? What impression does your death rattle accompany? Do you drown in a puddle, inhaling streaks of kerosene? Or are you maybe face up, having lost the strength to roll over for protection? Do you gasp for breath or choke on your own spit?

Do you cry, or have you already lost any excuse to do so, long, long ago?

Sunday, March 4, 2018

ST:TNG - Tin Allegiance

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: 3.18

Why did Star Trek need so many throwaway "alien" species?
Less romantic than it looks
Better science fiction tends to devote enough pages to alien races / cultures to flesh them out beyond just "wrinkly forehead guys type 43-57" but it seems like every new script on Star Trek custom-fitted brand new lives and civilizations to its individual plot, never to be heard from again. Thus this episode gives us an all-toadie species and an all-vandal species (try to guess which is which) while conveniently skipping over the interesting question of how either of their worlds would've dragged itself out of the mud in the first place.

These two happen to be Picard's cell-mates, because, you see, he's been... kidnapped! Dun-duun-dduuuUUNNN! And in his place a doppelganger instated! Dun-dun-dunner!
Hey now, this show only had the one respectable boney-fidey Royal Shakespearean. Whenever possible they made the most of Stewart, sometimes by cloning him. So while a fake Picard tests the Enterprise crew's loyalty by making them sing sea shanties, the real deal deals with a Huis Clos in which he must convince aliens of three other species to cooperate in attempting to escape. The catch? One of those assembled here.. is a murderer impostor!

As usual, the plot barely hangs together in a ragged mess of half-knotted threads.
There's no reason for Picard's captors to impersonate one of their own prisoners (especially as she's completely passive and irrelevant to the others' decisions) aside from providing for a dramatic reveal.
With their insanely overpowered technology, they also would not have been trapped in the Enterprise's force field on the bridge... which field you'd think would come up more often, given how accessible the Enterprise's bridge always is to teleporting invaders.
Never mind that a species capable of copying a body to the last synapse (to where it can fool a detailed physical by Beverly Crusher) wouldn't need to kidnap anyone at all, but could've pulled a Phillip K. Dick routine and made copies so perfect they themselves would not know it, and put those in a rat maze.
Or that such an insanely advanced species would make a powerful enough Federation ally that Picard should've swallowed his damn pride and groveled for them to open trade relations immediately.
Or that this technology's not so amazing on second thought, as perfect clones already spell the function of any run-of-the-mill teleporter on Star Trek.

Yet still... I remembered this episode fondly from when I was ten and seeing it now, I still find it tolerable. What it lacks in logical consistency it makes up for in other consistencies. The four captives' cell looks appropriately futuristic in its chiaroscuro angularity. Gratuitous the aliens may be but they look and act better than most anything in previous episodes, even recurring species like the Ferengi. The murder impersonation mystery's surprisingly subtle by television standards, hinging entirely on one pointed question and a couple of long stares by Stewart.

Seriesdate: 3.20
Tin Man

Mental patient ecstatically intromitted into flying space pine cone and Data learns the true meaning of belonging or some schlock.

The Enterprise rushes off to first-contact a giant sentient glowing turd with the aid of Tam Elbrun, a super-telepathic betazoid who can't turn off his over-sensitive antenna, and is thus constantly hounded by the entire ship's thoughts. Racing against both Romulans and an imminent supernova, the Enterprise manages to... well, in the spirit of TV series, it manages to break even by the end of the episode and reinstate the status quo. Meanie Romulans get blowed up real good. The super-telepath bonds with the untelepathable Data and by the end flies off into the sunset inside Tin Man (becoming it's heart... oooh, that's deep (not really)) which turns out to be a sentient organic spaceship.

While the previous episode failed in maintaining even a vague standard for what is or is not technologically possible in the 24th century, this script is peppered with maximum ship speeds, subspace communication interception, cloaking and what might interfere with it, the downside of telepathy and other futuristic nuts and bolts. Unfortunately it also completely telegraphs its trite, sappy ending and spends so much time building up the various threats (Tin Man, the supernova, the Romulans) that it over-sells them, failing to deliver a truly climactic pay-off. Even Elbrum's dramatic speeches on getting flooded with others' thoughts (despite being well acted) are reiterated once too many times.

It's a pity, because despite being marred by poorly-paced scriptwriting, Tin Man ranked one of the more memorable TNG episodes. The show aired four decades after the golden age of science fiction, yet even then (and even now) film and especially TV adaptations rarely touch the more mind-bending themes of the best SF stories. Tin Man hints at being at least inspired by better works. Organic spaceships, unbridgeable language barriers and skirting the possibility of Data being a Chinese box are interesting enough. More importantly, Tam Elbrun's talk of getting lost in the ship's mind at least tantalizes the audience with the logical culmination of telepathy found in classic stories like Clarke's Childhood's End or Martin's A Song for Lya. Once again, telepathy is a dead end for SF.


Though the writing had plateaued a bit as season 3 went on, TNG kept improving in other areas. It became more daring in its special effects, and both of these episodes feature make-up, sets and CGI of a much higher quality than TV audiences at the time were accustomed to. The last stragglers of the core cast finally grew into their roles, allowing the drama to move past relying on Stewart's theatrical talent and Spiner's uncanny affinity for his android alter ego. Riker leading his mutiny in Allegiance, Troi playing the headshrinker in Tin Man (instead of the damsel in distress she was pigeonholed as during the first two seasons) both come across as more restrained and natural, and the one-shot characters are, if anything, even better acted. The vicious tusked thug in Allegiance adopts an air of restrained, growling menace instead of constantly yelling and Tam fidgets the part of the nail-biting head case.

Unfortunately, TNG was still bound by expectations of acceptable television themes, and the morals delivered at the end of both episodes (imprisonment is wrong / everybody wants to belong) are so painfully simplistic they would've better fitted Sesame Street than the transgressive genre of outré futurology.