Saturday, April 28, 2018

three days to shame

Hate yourself for hating yourself. Hate yourself for the thought wasted in hating such waste as yourself. Hate yourself for the space wasted in awaiting nothing but hate. Hate your revolting persistence, your continued subsistence, your unwarranted annual distance. Hate your unfinished and unstarted work. Hate every layer of wasteful flesh, every tree-ring fear wrings from death, every breathless panicked lap around the sun. Hate the knife dancing on your skin, hate the wind not pushing you over the edge, hate the bleach sloshing harmlessly, refusing to tip over. Hate the fatigue encrusting your burnt-out neurons impeding hate your impulses and your reticence hate the mirror and the calendar hate your figurative indecency hate your literal incapacity hate your causative ambivalence hate your terminal incompetence hate the year hate every past year hate the next year hate next year's hate yourself hate your self hate yourself undeserving even of hate yourself hate your self hate your self hate your self hate your self hate your self hate your self hate your self hate your self hate your self hate your self hate your self hate your self hate your self hate your self hate your self hate your self hate your self hate your self hate your self hate

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Intellectual Growth Is a Faux Pas

"Well you've got me working so hard lately
Working my hands until they bleed
If I was twice the man I could be
I'd still be half of what you need"

NIN - Ringfinger


The webcomic Faux Pas did not immediately capture my attention. I ambled through its archive in less of a binge and more the way you occasionally grab a few dry but satisfying crackers out of a large box. Not that it's bad, mind you, but its setting, plots and humor are fairly conventional and a bit too prone to repetitive self-reference. Foxes and bunnies cohabitate a human farm alongside domesticated animals. Their PG-rated hijinks usually gravitate toward vaudevillian two-man acts, pratfalls and comedies of errors.

I was surprised however at the slow but sure intellectual growth it's accumulated over the years. Such well-traveled paths don't usually lend themselves to character growth. Garfield hates Mondays and eats lasagna. Garfield always hates Mondays and eats lasagna. Faux Pas, however, has managed to advance in a way not usually seen even in webcomics. Usually, while an author's artistic ability and storytelling intricacy / cohesion will vary along a comic's length, their philosophical / moral outlook either remains constant or becomes ever more exaggerated as the market share they've staked out (embodied in the comments section) reinforces each author's original leanings to the point of fanaticism.

Faux Pas' character roster was rapidly divided into straight men and jokesters, with the same targets constantly receiving the same abuse. This included a hefty dose of the usual battle of the sexes, which is to say a lot of supposedly thick-headed males meekly accepting females' verbal, emotional and physical abuse for failing to live up to ever-shifting female expectations. Because you see, that's what strong women do, with the only repercussion being a constant barrage of... praise, for being so sexy-badass.

Then, over a period of (as I can discern) the past three or so years, things gradually shifted.
An insecure male fox, instead of simply being adopted as a convenient victim, is being coached into standing up for himself against his mother's expectations.
The busybody old hen was revealed to be universally dismissed, ridiculed and even reviled for her constant interference in others' lives, to the point where even I thought the backlash against her was getting a bit extreme.
The rage-prone lagomorphic matriarch was ever so gently called out on her habit of long-term imprisonment and psychological torture of random critters.
Most interestingly, the resident femme fatale Dusk is gradually finding her abuse of others results in alienation, and is being eased out of her habits of  self-serving manipulation and terrorization - by a lowly male, no less!

The change was so gradual that I barely registered it as a decisive change at all... until comic #2082 involving Dusk's one friend / life coach Fluffy, who's been suffering a string of summary (and blatantly shallow) rejections from every female rabbit he approaches.
Fluffy: "Maybe I'm trying too hard to find a suitable doe."
Dusk:  "Nope! A male is expected to do anything and everything to impress a potential mate."
Fluffy: "Uh-huh... and what does the female do?"
Dusk (very smugly):  "She'll let you know if you're getting it right. ... If she feels like it!"

It's lovely. So simple, right there in black and white. Certainly this has been the pattern of much of Faux Pas' humor to date: male fails to meet female's arbitrary standards. Laugh, damn you. Yet now, instead of the punchline consisting of the male's failure, it's the female demand itself, and it's delivered by Dusk, who's already transitioned to being recognized as a negative character. It's equated with Dusk's sociopathic narcissism. That all-pervasive female expectation of men tripping over themselves to fall at your feet lavishing attention and service upon you is... a joke.

Faux Pas concerns itself with anthropomorphized barnyard critters, and it might be easy to dismiss this episode as simply an observation of lower mammals' mating patterns.... except we ain't nothing but mammals, ourselves. It's long past time we stopped  glamorizing female instinct and male susceptibility to female manipulation. Recognize that when the same behavior shows up century after century, aeon after aeon, species after species, we should be much more wary of the high likelihood of falling prey to it.

Male slavishness would indeed be funny, if it weren't too true. To be sure, Faux Pas has hardly pulled a one-eighty, nothing like Sinfest's by now infamous descent into feminist fanaticism. It's just opened itself to seeing the ludicrous side of the overentitled "fairer" sex, an almost diametrically opposite process of broadening rather than limiting thought. This sort of thing would give me hope for the future if I weren't already bracing myself for the inevitable backsliding into socially acceptable male-bashing.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

V:tM - Bloodlines ! How not to design a chase scene

I never did finish off my little series on V:tM - Bloodlines. Oh, well, no time like the present.

Let's talk werewolves. Both V:tM cRPG adaptations feature exactly one (1) werewolf encounter. This is blatant tokenism and my were-lawyer shall hear of it. Redemption's version was somewhat criticized for it non-sequitur simplicity. As you exit a quest location, a werewolf bursts out of a wooden crate and jumps you. Completely unrelated to anything else going on in the game. WTF? The fight itself wasn't much better; standard tank'n'spank with lots of health potion abuse.

Bloodlines was a far superior game. Its werewolf fight, however, was even worse.
Let me lament, once again, the portrayal of werewolves as over-beefed and under-characterized. Why did it have to be a kaiju? But more to the point, Bloodlines' werewolf fight is not a fight. You cannot harm the beast and it can take you out in 3-4 swipes, so you spend four minutes running in circles around Griffith Park Observatory trying to glitch the AI's pathing at doorways and corners to buy yourself time. So how does it fail?

1) You're running in circles. Good chase scenes are linear (think Half-Life 2's opening sequence or utterly gratuitous (yet cool!) hoverboat gauntlet) or maybe sometimes they can be spirals, letting you watch your own progress. This rodeo on the other hand gets old after a couple of laps. And then you realize it's only been thirty seconds. Three more minutes to go.

2) No interaction. Chase scenes have a lot in common with stealth-based games in emphasizing traps, obstacles and other indirect interaction. If you can't kill the boogeyman, can you trip him? Blind him? Lock him in the fridge? Bloodlines' observatory romp lacks any interactable objects beyond opening and closing doors. No barrels to blow up, no chairs to knock over. There is a way to actually kill the werewolf by pressing a couple of switches, or so a walkthrough informs. I swear to all that's toothy that in three? four? more? campaigns I've never bothered with it. The trap itself shows no signs that it might be activated and its switches give no feedback that you're actually progressing toward a solution.

3) For all its frustration, evading the werewolf by running in circles is actually quite easy, giving you no incentive to look for another solution, managing to both demand constant attention yet provide no real challenge, nerve-wracking and dull at the same time. All you have to do is keep chasing your tail for four minutes straight and you're done. It reeks of the sort of penultimate chapter game-changer which developers like to throw in to wreck their own pacing and coherence.

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Apotheosis Project

- or: "how I wasted three bucks"

Hadn't played an old-timey adventure game in a while, and while weighing various titles from my GoG collection I remembered I'd already installed The Apotheosis Project last year when I picked it up as part of a package deal or whatnot. And now I've uninstalled it.

There's not much to say here. Gameplay mechanics are standard 1980's fare: lots of 2D pixel-hunting and "use key on door" type of stuff. You can also switch between two main characters, a less common but still well-rehearsed gimmick. I've seen worse. It's the aesthetics that make this a waste of a gigabyte's worth of memory.

For one thing the voice acting, crucial in a genre with otherwise very sparse features, is just horrendous intern-quality read-throughs, managing to be at once overly dramatic and bland. One. of. the. FIRST. villains... talks. in. NOTHING but... dramatic! pauses. Thankfully he vanishes after his first scene, but the rest are about as bad. I'm halfway expecting one of them to say "I did not hit her, it's bullshit... o hai Mark"

I suppose I could stand bad voice acting if the lines being acted were in themselves worth hearing, but the writing makes most indie games sound like Hamlet. Most is just utterly redundant, adding neither color nor illumination to your visible surroundings. I hover my mouse over a red button. The floating text says "red button." The voiceover description? "It's a red button." The rest is fourth-wall-breaking exposition, mostly redundant.

Maybe you think logical consistency might salvage such a mess. Nope. In that same second scene you're supposed to save your partner from a prison cell guarded by the standard-issue One Inept Guard. Pressing the giant red button causes a trap door to open and sets off an alarm, klaxons blaring, red-and-blue warning lights flashing, the works. The guard runs in, ignoring all alarms, and falls through it. Mission accomplished. The voiceover? "Oh my god. What an idiot." I assume you mean the writer.

Maybe you're thinking this is a comedic spoof of such games, but every development is presented in deadly serious scenery-chewing dramatism. There's even a "Noooooo!" to rival the infamous Darth Vader cherry topper to the Star Wars prequels.

Ladle on some good old-fashioned misandry while you're at it. There's a stuck drawer. The male character needs to force it open using "brute force" (direct quote) and he pulls out what he says is a "useless piece of paper." He needs to hand it to his female colleague so she can figure out that the words "5 right 4 left 8 right" might just be the combination to the one and only safe on the wall next to the drawer. Because, you see, boys can't read. They're stupid.
Going through these steps awards achievements named "she's the boss" and "female superiority." The heroine's line upon opening the safe? "I've opened the safe using the combination that I found MYSELF." No, really, caps lock included, with verbal emphasis to boot.

Aaaaand that's about enough of that.
So, as it uninstalls, I have to ask: who initially financed the production of this retarded piece of trash and why is it getting packaged with much better games like The Cat Lady?

Thursday, April 19, 2018

UnderRail

I want to like this game, I really do, but its underlying expertise is just snowed under in too many layers of awkward, amateurish fumbling. As a case in point, take the song-and-dance you need to perform to even vendor any loot:

NPC vendors' demands for various items are limited and changing. This would be great, except there's no way to know what those demands are at any one time. This is not a multiplayer game where you can get a price check on phenolic composites in the next constellation from another player. Also, the vendors are all in separate zones. Also, your inventory's limited, so you can't just load everything you think you might sell and do your rounds. You have to go back and forth between your stash and each NPC, checking current demand then going back to grab three or four items to sell, then zoning again to sell them. Do this several times over, through at least two loading screens at a time, after every quest.

UnderRail is a Fallout copycat. We've been getting a lot of those recently, mostly from Fallout's own former developers, which is fine. Fallout should have been much more of a trendsetter than it was in its own time. Unfortunately, would-be copycats tend to zero in on a few superficial details like the setting or action points or weapon reloading and ignore how these meshed together. UnderRail actually contains an impressive number of features which larger developers refuse to implement. Individually, each of these features can even be said to work. The main issue concerns one of my favorite topics revisited year after year here in my little den: world building.
UnderRail has none, either from a storytelling or level design perspective.
Oh look... rats. Rats which are also dogs, because that makes them more interesting? Then later you also run into actual, regular dogs, for extra redundancy. And I can hit them with my single-target magic missile psychic skill, which stuns, or a bouncing magic missile skill which stuns its first target. Your second destination is called Junktown, a territory disputed by two gangs of lawless thugs. Will you have to run missions between them? Possibly! The entire adventure takes place in caves, with such distinguishing names as "lower caves" or "upper caves" or just to change things up a bit "lower passages" each subdivided into a dozen little maps in which you'll meet a cluster of enemies.

Now, the basic ideas here are solid:
A stat / skill system with synergies and advancement through exploration, not killing. Crafting, sneaking, vent crawling, status effects, ammunition, durability loss, pocket-picking, lock-picking, all those golden oldies are included.

Unfortunately, the whole thing stumbles into Arcanum levels of frustration. To re-iterate my comment about Icewind Dale's difficulty, tough enemies are fine as long as they don't also ship in swarms. Then, difficulty turns into a grind. UnderRail has you fighting alone against groups of enemies, which makes those aforementioned status effects hideously overpowered. Stuns are perfectly valid in group-based RPGs inspired by Baldur's Gate (just means shifting some more weight onto your remaining party members) but for a solo adventure, getting stunned for a round means skipping a round. No options. Amateurish implementation.

In fact the whole combat system seems completely unmanageable without grenade-like consumables to whittle down and separate NPCs to avoid getting zerged. Otherwise, you'll easily get knocked out in the first round of combat without ever firing a shot. The fact that most cleared maps tend to respawn only multiplies this frustration, especially as your character advancement depends on exploration, meaning repeatedly crossing hub maps in search of that last exp point. The game as a whole appears to depend on foreknowledge of what skills you'll need and where. Lockpicking requirements and enemy difficulty jump by at least two-fold between maps. Crafting skills are pointless unless you know you'll have access to the appropriate materials.

All of this might have been mitigated by some inspired map-making and storytelling, but UnderRail fails most by being an aimless grind. LotRO makes a good counterpoint, as it is itself a much more mindless grind (being a WoW-clone) but its level design has consistently stood out. You're always treated to sweeping vistas, foreshadowing and nostalgic looks back at your own path. UnderRail seems to consist of exactly two tilesets. Even that might have been salvaged by some clever arrangement, by some sense of escalation or progress. Instead, most of its maps may as well be ten-by-ten rooms.

The storytelling is, if anything, worse. You arrive at a station. You're given task after task with only the vaguest sense of either present or past context. Given the mutants and undergound living arrangements, presumably there was some kind of nuclear war, not that it's ever clarified. There's a "protectorate" and some stations which function as independent militias, but flavor text and backstory are otherwise conspicuously missing. First you're sent into some caves to the north, then some caves to the west, then some caves to the south. Enemies get tougher with rare warning and you spend half your time zoning back and forth between the painfully small map segments trying to figure out which way to go.

It should be a given feature of game development that games need to be developed, and UnderRail simply was not.

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Wonderful World of Superstition: Then and Now

"In finding direction and measuring time, the Egyptian had only the same clues as the hunters and food gatherers of a bygone age: the rising and setting positions of the sun, moon and stars, the shadow of the sun by day and the rotation of star clusters around the Pole Star at night. Years of careful recording, however, enabled the Egyptian to make far better use of these clues. [...] Here we have real science; but many of the priestly drawings of ancient Egypt show the gods busy controlling the points of the compass or the hours of day and night. Along with real science they trailed a heavy load of superstition."

Lancelot Hogben - The Wonderful World of Mathematics
(copyright 1955)

_____________________________________________________

First of all, let's acknowledge how totally rad and tubular a name like "Lancelot Hogben" is. If the kid's gonna get beaten up for his patronymic anyway, you might as well endow him with a pugnacious baptism to compensate.

I ran across the honorable Professor Hog-been's book last year while attempting to pick up my mathematical education where it left off around y2k and realizing I had to go all the way back to the dictionary like Homer Simpson. The Wonderful World of Mathematics proved a bit too basic, being a mere history of math aimed at junior high or maybe 9th/10th grade high-schoolers, but I was impressed with its delivery. It's one of those children's or young adult popularized science books so charmingly intoxicated with their subject matter as to draw young minds into unwitting edification.

It was published thirty years after the Scopes trial. (1955-30, come on, we're talking math here, do the arithmetic.) You've all heard of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial, I'm sure. The one with Gene Kelly in it? It sent the Bible-thumpers reeling for several decades, until they re-grouped back in the '70s and '80s to once again try sneaking Creationist superstition into public education. They haven't let up since. Much fewer of you, I'd wager, have heard of the monkey trial's modern reiteration: the 2005 Dover, Pennsylvania school district decision on so-called "Intelligent Design" or last decade's fashionable pseudonym for allah and brahma and ymir nose-twitching everything into being. The Nova documentary Judgment Day does a decent job of describing that courtroom drama comedy in its various lunacy (if you can stomach re-enactments; I can't) but I'd rather recommend the eugenial Dr. Scott's own presentations on the matter.

When I ran across Hogben's excerpt above, I did a double-take and immediately checked when and where the book was published, as I could not imagine such a statement about religion (even non-Christian religion) as "superstition" making it past editorial self-censorship in this day and age. In fact the usage of the term "superstition" (if Google is to be believed) has steadily declined since the Enlightenment. I'm somewhat encouraged by the slight rise in incidence since 2000, but half of that is probably just Bill Maher.
Well, I'm doing my part anyway: superstition!
(Have you insulted your fundie today?)

The Scopes trial was started (in true American fashion) for fame and fortune to "put Dayton on the map" with a media frenzy, and it worked. Boy howdy, did it ever work. Did I mention Gene Kelly? In its aftermath, authors like Hogben across the ocean could count on support for science from an American population which had realized it did not want to be portrayed as backward back-woods backbirths, as anti-scientific. For decades, the Scopes trial left the impression that the question had been settled: you can mumble whatever you want in church, but the res publica must be based in reality and public education reflected this.

The Dover trial had its 15 minutes of fame back in 2005 but was quickly eclipsed by the invention of funny cat videos, despite addressing pretty much the same issue in just as urgent a manner. Not only that but unlike in the wake of the Scopes trial, the fundamentalists quickly bounced back with new catch-phrases like "teach the controversy" (there is none, by the way) and other efforts to "wedge" science out of science education. More worrisome, while the Dayton challenge to education was a disingenuous, cold-blooded bid for publicity, the Dover school board seemed deadly earnest in its desire to burn evolution (literally; there was this mural, you see) and regress to the state of ignorant hillbillies.

The right wing has only grown more entrenched over the past century while the left wing, weakened by fifty years of post-modernist anti-intellectualism, can no longer put up a fight.

Come on, one more for the road:
Superstition!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

With apologies to Sir McCartney

Blokes, birds, swinging in the deed of night
Take these broken wangs and learn to fap
You were always wanking for your moment to "arise"


__________________________
(original)

Friday, April 13, 2018

Secret Farmville Legends

Before I abandon The Secret World until their next patch, I'd like to address what I like to call the Tamagotchi Brigade.

TSW is quite a pretty game. It features immersive locales and character models both realistic and theatrical. Unfortunately, this may not make it the easiest program to work within, if its release schedule is any indication. Content updates are few and far between. Even by four years ago, I had remarked that Funcom was swindling its customers with simple text updates instead of working within the game engine for which they'd been charged.

This would be less of an issue if TSW had any replay value, but like any WoW-clone it's a painfully linear slog through a single-player gear farming grindfest. Creativity and unpredictability scare idiots. Content provides no incentive to log in for day after day after day of the same exact run through the same exact scripted instance. Companies need log-in incentives to just get their customers to fire up their game client... just for five minutes... so their addiction to the loot grind can kick in.

So, among other daily log-in rewards, TSW has implemented the "agent network" a minigame mixing trading card random drop collectability with Farmville babysitting. Like previously mentioned texted ventures it features no voice actors and takes place entirely outside the main game environment. Find mooks, equip them with gear and send them on missions. They bring back resources used to run higher-level missions.

That's the interesting part. High-level missions use up a lot of resources. The only way to get these is by having your agents run low-level missions, whose other rewards are utter trash loot, not even vendorable. Missions come in durations of eight, four, one hour or fifteen minutes. With enough agents, by far the most efficient way to gather resources is to constantly run fifteen minute missions... all day long, non stop.

So when your customers run off because your product's a mind-numbingly repetitive grind, your solution is a minigame which is... even more of a grind.
Hhmmm.
Yes.
Yes, this will work out well.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Paranoia Agent

"Build a fortress and shield your beliefs
Touch the divine as we fall in line

Destroy this city of delusion
Break these walls down"

Muse - City of Delusion


Satoshi Kon didn't amass a very extensive resume by his untimely demise but he did leave animation with a few raised bars. As much as I liked Perfect Blue, Tokyo Godfathers or Paprika though, Paranoia Agent seems ultimately more memorable, beyond just the hypnotic repetitive screeching of of "maii-ii-aiii-igo" in the opening credits. Shonen Bat is after all a viral meme even in-universe.

For a mishmash of leftover plots that wouldn't fit into full-length movies it holds together surprisingly well, though it takes a second viewing to really catch the multitudinous characters' interconnection and cameos in each others' episodes. A graphic designer gets mugged by a tween boy with a bent baseball bat. Supposedly. The story goes viral. From there on through young, old, male, female, cops and robbers, every episode draws a tangent to this growing urban legend. The vignettes vary wildly in the objective seriousness of their subject matter though they all adopt a generally tragicomic tone, from schoolyard popularity contests to life and death decisions. In fact, by the end, you'll probably be wondering what exactly the show was even about.

But it's obviously about something. Even the most common recurring characters, the two cops investigating the bludgeonings, view Shonen Bat as something like a walking mark of torment seducing the tormented psyches of Tokyo. At least on a superficial level, the series' central theme might be Japanese workaholism, that obsequious shikataganai sarariman devotion to drudgery and putative success which drives so many into hikkikomorbidity. But that's not giving it enough credit. Like the other examples above, Paranoia Agent concerns itself with self-delusion and characters losing themselves to fantasy worlds.

Unlike the more sympathetic hippy-dippy "to each his own" personal empowerment attitude found in Paprika or Tokyo Godfathers, though, Paranoia Agent progresses toward a fairly strong statement in favor of intellectual integrity. It's not the crime, it's the psychological cover-up that gets you, and coming clean about one's faults, inadequacies, errors or transgressive desires would be preferable to fomenting an oncogenic deception. As Ursula Le Guin's character in The Dispossessed put it "Reality is terrible. It can kill you. But it's the lies that make you want to kill yourself."

Paranoia Agent ran in 2004. How much more apt is it now (at least in North America) as snowflake mass hysteria has gripped civilized society? Look at all the kawaii degenerates claiming to be victimized by "institutionalized prejudice" and therefore to be immune from accountability for their own choices and entitled to retribution against their preferred targets of abuse. Observe their pretense of sainthood and martyrdom. Watch the mass hysteria spread, as more and more of the population becomes caught up in the oppression olympics and tell me these idiots wouldn't be improved by a bat upside the head.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Undead in Joburg

Slight spoilers follow as to Secret World Legends' new playable zone, New Dawn.

Once upon a time, Penelope had a problem: her husband had gone off to war. (Some might consider that a bigger problem for the husband himself, but let's not be accused of mansplaining here.) In any case brave Odysseus, wise king of Ithaca, refused to chop his baby boy in two with a plow, so was deemed much too sane for politics and got drafted. Penelope was left home holding the baby, and had to wait a while before Ulysses sailed back. Then she had to wait another while, and a few more whiles after that. Now, when a king goes m.i.a. for two decades it inevitably prompts a few understudies to step up and claim the title, so Penelope had to keep beating suitors off with a stick (the poor dear) and stall 'til her bull came home. Her favorite trick was refusing to re-mary until she finished weaving a shroud for a relative's death. Every day she'd weave a bit more of the shroud to show the suitors her progress. Every night, she'd unravel it.
Heheh. Suckers.

Anyway, on a completely different topic:
Welcome to South Africa!

The Secret World put out its first real content update in three years yesterday. For those not in the know, this is a game which launched about seven years ago, promising to be a "different" kind of MMO (no classes, no levels, that sort of spiel) and proved to be pretty much just another WoW-clone in every practical aspect. It did earn an uncontested reputation as the best-written MMO (sort of like Neil DeGrasse Tyson being voted the sexiest astrophysicist; mu) and I would add also the best-acted and often most atmospheric. It easily outclasses most of the game industry in aesthetic flair.

Unfortunately, TSW had no replay value: invariable scripted mission grinding, a game engine woefully maladaptive for PvP, a skill system filled with redundancy and lacking satisfying customization. Like any other WoW-clone it also imposes massive amounts of replay on its customers though gear-farming timesinks. It's an old-school puzzle-solving, linear single-player adventure game with a multiplayer mode tacked on at the end to justify DRMing its customers to death and funneling them into a cash shop.
I happen to be a lifetime subscriber, so I'm in this thing to the bitter end.

Said bitter end should probably have come back in 2015 or 2016 by which time TSW had already become a ghost town fleetingly repopulated for a weekend at a time whenever the company announced some kind of event or promotion. Surprisingly, Funcom decided to reinvest in the project instead of dumping it. Last July it was relaunched as Secret World Legends, with an even more dumbed down combat system and much of its content actually removed, but at least it was in a more playable form, less of a chore. (Except for the chores.) The Legends relaunch eclosed in a hilariously, stunningly buggy form, filled with blatant cash traps and emptied of at least half its multiplayer elements while at the same time forcing players through a massive dozen-tier gear-farming slog as a timesink in lieu of content. Now, the bugs have largely been squashed and new content has finally arrived. How does it measure up?

Like a dwarf in the NBA. But, y'know, still, a sexy dwarf.
For a face-saving, job-securing band-aid on a chest-wound having long bled out, for a product several years in production, the South Africa expansion's laughably small. In fact you can see around half of it in that one screenshot. Aside from being entirely single-player, I suppose it doesn't help that half the list of new content reads "coming soon":
Jesus, who's paying these people?
Oh, right, me.
Well, I mean, you can't blame them. They only had a few years to slap twenty missions together.
However...
I have yet to get bugged. This may sound like a not-so-great expectation, but compared to TSW's history heretofore, it's outright miraculous. It took them five years to even get their rosters to display dates properly. Legends hit in 2017 with bugs still unresolved since 2011. A bug-free TSW expansion's almost like a bug-free Troika game. History balks at the very concept.

Also, while there's relatively little there, what's there is actually solid work. Nothing brilliant, mind you. A couple of interesting boss fights, a new gameplay mechanic for sabotage (read: stealth) missions which complements existing mechanics nicely, some good voice acting, some mediocre. The bidonville's scenic enough. I'll get into the writing some other time, but overall New Dawn looks promising.

Alas, TSW is still a mindless chore of a grind, overall. Amusingly though, a few of the missions seem meta-commentary on this very fact. You alternate your time infiltrating the cultist commune of New Dawn between day and night, between undermining them and earning their trust, with different quests available during each. Under cover of darkness, you sabotage some trucks and spray graffiti all over their tin shacks. Come morning, you're tasked with... repairing the trucks and cleaning up the graffiti which mysteriously appeared overnight. Wax on; wax off. If Funcom didn't consciously mean this as self-parody, they've just been at it for too long.

Of course, when Penelope kept unraveling her weaving, she knew the last cause of her temporizing. She had an Odysseus on the horizon.
Do we?
Or are we the poor deluded suitors?

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Pick Out Your Intellectual Equals

"I never really hated the one true god
But the god of the people I hated"

Marilyn Manson - Disposable Teens
__________________________________________

"As a devout agnostic, Jubal consciously evalued all religions, from the animism of the Kalahari Bushmen to the most sober and intellectualized of the major Western faiths, as being equal. But emotionally he disliked some more than others... and the Church of the New Revelation set his teeth on edge. The Fosterites' flat-footed claim to utter gnosis through a direct pipeline to Heaven, their arrogant intolerance implemented in open persecution of all other religions wherever they were strong enough to get away with it, the sweaty football-rally and sales-convention flavor of their services - all these ancillary aspects depressed him. If people must go to church, why the devil couldn't they be dignified about it, like Catholics, Christian Scientists or Quakers?
[...]
So the Fosterites might be right. Jubal could not even show that they were probably wrong.
But, he reminded himself savagely, two things remained to him: his own taste and his own pride. If indeed the Fosterites had a monopoly on Truth (as they claimed), if Heaven were open only to Fosterites, then he, Jubal Harshaw, gentleman and free citizen, preferred that eternity of pain-filled damnation promised to all "sinners" who refused the New Revelation. He might not be able to see the naked face of God... but his eyesight was good enough to pick out his social equals - and these Fosterites, by damn, did not measure up!"

Robert Heinlein - Stranger in a Strange Land
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As a devout atheist I hold all beliefs in the supernatural, from Catholic frou-frou to modernly foppish "spiritualism" (whatever the everloving fuck that even means) to be equally moronic. But emotionally, it's religion's appeal to anti-intellectualism, to primitivism, gullibility and codependence which raises my hackles. If heavens are the province of punch-drunk sing-along ignorant rabble, then I'd rather share a sober discussion of evolutionary theory with The Accuser for the rest of eternity. If you must go to church, why can't you just sit quietly and mumble your nonsense in private with some scrap of decorum?

Hoppy Easter!
A nameless Roman redshirt named Longinus, passed over for a promotion, dipped an egg in lamb's blood and stick-magnetized it up Yaisuah's asshole. When it knocked up against The Most Holy of Prostates, it cracked, thus impregnating Yesu Grift-us with a killer rabbit doomed to have his adorable noggin' cracked only by the Holy Hand-Egg of Antioch. Thus, on East-Ur Sun-Dei, we crack colored eggs. We also traditionally bite the heads off cacao-and-cane-sugar lagomorphs, just like the twelve latter dolts say at the 501(c)3rd supper.
As for the palm fronds lining Jay-zus' entry into the New Jerusalem (Dollywood) it's a little-known fact that they were handed out by the fashion police as Edenically-appropriate garb. Fig leaves stem from a Dianitpicky mis-translation of the original Atlantean. In reality, they would've been much too small. Adam was hung like a unicorn. The palm fronds only landed on the road in front of Jesus when the city-wide flash mob honored him with a mass pantsing.
Now, pay attention, this next bit's important: the killer bunny emerged from Heh-sooth's dead thigh on the third day when the dry desert air had ripened both dermis and epidermis to tree-bark perfection. So the bunny had to rip out of the rotting corpse's flesh twice, gaining the name Deo-nebriatus, saint of this-sounds-more-plausible-drunk. Whence we derive the significance for both eating crusty wafers and getting vampirically tipsy. Judas was a biter. Of the Holy Spigot. It's how Jesus learned to hate gays.


What?
Whaaat? What're you lookin' at me like that for?
Like any of this is worse than the crap you morons worship as respectable religion. I may be talking out of my ass but at least I'm not trying to make you believe in a literal talking donkey. And even if you don't entirely buy that, you are still following the dictates and upholding the social control apparatus of those who would have you believe in talking snakes and donkeys! Every last bit of insanity and idiocy becomes possible once you accept the basic notion of an almighty shaper of all there is. If you're stupid enough to buy the circus, then you own all the animals inside it.

And what a menagerie you are, oh you happy few, you band of boneheads, you saved at the expense of all the rest of us: from self-mutilating Hindus and spaced-out Buddhists to snake-handling Appalachian Chreeshchuns and Scientologists worshipping a pulp SF novel. Who could hate you? Oh, right, all the other yous.

Take your holiest of men speaking his holiest wisdom in the incomprehensible million tongues of Paradise. Does he really sound so different from me congealing wordsicles in my stream-of-consciousness rambling?

So your priest wears a gold-embossed white or black robe. So what? I've got a polyester blend hooded sweatshirt. Is every chav pope of the universe?

You touch your forehead to the floor every time you kneel to Mecca? I slap my forehead every time I see you cretins do that. I maintain that my forehead slapping is holier than thine.

You like burning incense? I prefer the smell of pizza, and I'll take pepperoni over communion wafers any day.

If by this point you're thinking "holy shit" then yes, thank you, you're finally getting it. Holy is shit, and frankly it turns my stomach to see you eating it. What does it say about your intellectual abilities that you're so easily impressed by fancy robes, rations and rituals? Not much needs to be said. You can see the same conditioned emotional responses from other lower animals like yourselves, in every cat worshipping the holy incantation of the Covenant of the Can Opener and dogs praying at the door when their master's about to come home from work. Every day at 5:30 your dog witnesses the second coming of its god... just like Seventh-Day Adventists.

I cannot imagine sharing an eternity in the sort of three ring circus designed by you degenerate ass-clowns who fawn over such garbage. If heaven's an eternity of rednecks and other drooling primitives chanting "puh-raise jay-zusss" then I would either find my way to hell or make one.


Easter seems especially ludicrous, what with the cutesy-wootsie bunny wabbit celebrating a gruesome execution by crucifixtion, but it's really just another card in the tarot deck, more hollow make-work symbolism. Yeah, I could've used the fact that it fell on April 1st as a hook for this post, but honestly? You're fools year-round. Sure, sure, we can hand-wave the whole thing, saying that eggs are just a symbol of reincarnation (which is totes legit) but if you buy that, then you must admit your whole faith was puled out of a hen's cloaca. Once you agree to buy the basic notion of supernatural forces based on no evidence whatsoever, then you might as well buy into the whole ass-backwards lunacy. If you actually believe there are superhuman intellects out there who dedicate their existence to tabulating the number of times you masturbate and fart in elevators, all to justify themselves in keeping you alive for the rest of eternity... just so they can torture you... then you're a moron.

We are not the same species. Reason and superstition began to diverge at least half a millennium before some poor deluded schmuck of a rabbi was tortured to death for telling rabid apes to love each other. Minds capable of reason must learn to shed their attachments to the Allzumenschliche filth choking all life out of the world. As thinking beings, the faithful do not measure up.

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Edit 2018/04/03:

Added several middle paragraphs, as I was unhappy with the lack of detail I provided.