Monday, July 30, 2018

The Endemic Plague

"they must simply have refused to take [Thibaut de Castries] seriously, you see - either his revolution or his new black magic. Jack London was a Marxist socialist from way back and had written his way through a violent class war in his science fiction novel The Iron Heel. He could and would have poked holes in both the theory and the practice of Thibaut's Reign of Terror. And he'd have known that the first city to elect a Union Labor Party government was hardly the place to start a counterrevolution. He also was a Darwinian materialist and knew his science. He'd have been able to show up Thibaut's 'new black science' as a pseudoscientific travesty and just another name for magic, with all the unexplained action at a distance."

Fritz Leiber - Our Lady of Darkness
(writing in 1977 about fictional events with real-world references around 1900)


"Hey mom, what's this I hear about the greenhouse effect?"

Bill Watterson - Calvin and Hobbes
(published 1987/07/23)


"The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive."

Donald Trump, 2012/11/06


"mike pence quotes bible"

Google's only autocomplete option when I type "Mike Pence quotes" into the search box, 2018/07/30


"Religious behaviour is one of the hallmarks of behavioral modernity, generally assumed to have emerged around 50,000 years ago"

from the Wikipedia page on Paleolithic religion

"That's not modern!"
- me, ten seconds ago

We keep telling ourselves we've made progress, that science, in its five hundred or so laps around the sun, has transformed the world. Well, yes, it has... except for the one most important aspect.
Apes are still apes.

So. Having meant to read more by Fritz Leiber for some time now, I've been leafing through Our Lady of Darkness. It's not terrible, but so far I'm largely unimpressed by the over-reliance on Frisco in-jokes, and if you want an urban fantasy tale touching on polisomancy you'd be better served by Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere.

The passage above, however, brought to mind once again the increasingly poignant similarities between the beginning of the third millennium anno dumbini and the previous turn of the century. Patent medicines or homeopathy, theosophy or scientology, blurry photos of fairies or of UFOs, prissy Victorian sexophobia or prissy feminist sexophobia, anomie or antifa, 1920s fundamentalism or 2020s fundamentalism, what is the freaking difference?

Advancement never seems to truly stick. You hit a nice stride in 1987; human impact on the environment has become a popular enough topic that it starts showing up in newspaper comic strips. Then you wake up in 2018. Half the U.S. still refuses to accept the notion and the other half wants to plaster the whole planet in solar panels while doing nothing to address the overpopulation demanding all that extra electricity. You look around in the '60s and you think we'll finally overcome our idiotic repression and abuse of social ape sexuality as a tool of social control. Blink and you're in the 2010s watching homosexuals demand to be permitted to chain themselves in legally enforced monogamy, aping the reactionary rednecks' proudest institutions. Hear Nietzsche proclaim God's death in 1882 then realize: not only have we not managed to blast the head off that zombie by now, but everyone around us is infected by a thousand new strains of superstition. Forty years after Leiber cited Jack London's argumentative tendencies as ancient history, we find ourselves still rambling through the same tired old arguments about class wars and pseudoscientific travesties, trying in *fain to cram some sense into the subsentient naked apes around us.

It never sticks. Science has improved our lives immeasurably compared to even our grandparents' generation but no matter how well you treat the monkeys, they remain monkeys. If you want to heal the world you must address its most virulent disease: human stupidity.

We must break the taboo.

We need to start talking honestly about the desperate need for eugenics.

* Yes, that's a typo, but I'm leaving it in. It works.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

I used to wish for the end of the world. Now I realize that with my luck it'd probably turn out to be one of those cyclical Kalpa / Ragnarok type deals where the world just starts over with the same old crap.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Into the Breach

"Some do it fast and some do it better in smaller amounts"

Marilyn Manson - Count to 6 and Die

Back when I reservedly praised a Roguelike throwback called FTL for its captivating frustration factor I would've expected its developers to use its somewhat unexpected popularity to launch into some self-indulgent, Hollywood-envious glitzy cash sink of a project. As with the first, I'm not entirely enthused by their second release, Into the Breach, but its quality is once again undeniable. Again they indulged in the same nonsensical "neo retro" visual aesthetic (or lack of same) so there's little to note in that department except for some masterfully addictive anticipation-building delays in reward window pop-ups and menu scrolling. You don't have to like it, but note it.


Giant bugs are destroying the planet! Oh noes! Luckily your crack squad of mecha pilots can jump in from the future to go mano a mano with the evil insectoids. Go-go power something. As both your crew and your mechs change less during a play-through than your FTL ship, the adventure here manages to be even less engaging. In true old-timey fashion, the storytelling's limited to "go kill the big nasties" all the better to fast-forward to iron-fisted pugilism.

But then again, you have to hand it to them, in that respect it shines. Into the Breach boils down RPG mechanics to the point of returning to tabletop strategy, but manages to do so while leaving nothing behind. In fact it's harder to come up with turn-based game mechanics which weren't included.

Damage comes as melee, range, indirect, DoT, targeted AoE, PBAoE, ground AoE, cone AoE, line AoE, and can be altered by self-healing, group healing, HoT, health buffs, armor buffs, damage amps, immunity...
Not enough for you? Try terrain effects like fire damage, moving tiles, smoke blocking your attacks, water sinking non-mech ground units, insta-gib lightning, ice block immunity or hell why not, even the terrain dropping out from under ground units altogether.
And that's still just scratching the surface because the most important feature, the "puzzle-solving" element for which ITB gets applauded is movement and orientation. Friendly fire is very, very real for both your units and the bugs, and smashing things into each other causes damage. So most of the game actually revolves around pushing, pulling, jumping, teleporting, swapping and turning your enemies around to get them to frag each other, billiard them into mountains, into each other or your own units or at least get their sights off your buildings.

It's hectic, hair-raising stuff and quite rewarding. Half the time you get better results with non-damaging options, as your main objective is not to kill but to drag the fight out for four or five rounds without letting your buildings get damaged. And here's where my biggest quibble comes in: ITB is even more luck-based than FTL.

Others have said this, sure, but they tend to focus on the types of enemies spawning each round. I'd say rather the main problem rests with the "power grid" which acts as a stand-in for your "lives" from old games. Lose all those 7 points in the top left and the game is over, and in the late game it's not uncommon for the bugs to do 3-4 points of grid damage in a single attack. Not in one fight or even one round but a single bug's attack in one round.

Low sample pools increase sampling error. This is, in a roundabout way, why cheetahs and condors and so many other endangered species are pretty much doomed. It's much easier to align a perfect totality of disaster with fewer pieces. Your ITB grid has a small chance of resisting attacks, and I doubt I've had even one victory so far which did not involve some lucky roll of the "grid defense" dice. Compared to a thirty hit point spaceship, a seven-point grid is much more likely to get wiped out in the course of a single unlucky battle. Even if it is your fault (as has shamefully often been the case with inattentive old me) it still feels like you're being cheated somehow when you lose everything due to a single misstep after a dozen hard-won battles. Yeah, critical fumbles are a classic tabletop issue as well, but at least there you've got a GM to fudge the rules a bit and let you limp away with one hit point and keep the campaign rolling.

I love small numbers in games, and find such games more interesting than the pinball-sized readout of gold pieces or hit points in, say, WoW-clone MMOs. Small numbers and probability, though, do not mix well, at least not when affecting your adventure's most crucial metric.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Fallout and the Monomyth

"You know I just don't get it
Last year I was nobody
This year I'm selling records
You might see me walkin'
You might see me walkin' a dead rottweiler dog with its head chopped off in the park with a  spiked collar, hollerin' at him 'cause the sonova bitch won't quit barkin'"

Eminem - Marshall Mathers

I replayed the original Fallout earlier this year in preparation for trying the later games, having previously stopped a few missions into Fallout 2. It was enough to remind me that computer games' tendency toward derivative asides and gratuitous pop culture references was even more pronounced in the old days.
So much of '90s culture centered on the thrill of maladapting mundane activities to a computer. Game designers didn't seem to think their works capable of standing on their own feet, and like Gil Bates vs. Appleby in Arcanum, such references have become even more jarring as their sources sink out of memory. Do any bastards even bother to kill Kenny any more?

That situation above came about due to my unwarranted frugality. By the end of the game I had stockpiled explosives and ammunition for weapons I hadn't even used yet, so I decided to burn some of it to murder The Hub why not. Pretty sure that's how WWI came about too. Results of getting triple-drugged out of one's skull while sitting on a pile of military hardware?

I see pew.
I see pew.
I see lots of pew-pew.
I was impressed, however, that butchering the largest extant settlement innocent by innocent did not manage to entirely erase the good reputation I'd built up. It makes sense in retrospect but we simply don't expect games to make sense. RPGs have trained us to expect the panopticon to turn every city guard hostile against us at the first transgression, yet your game should not be forcing me to play a single-note, flat do-gooder or do-badder. Did I not just single-handedly save entire cities from fiery draconic doom? Or the multiverse from being gobbled by several and sundry eldritch horrors? That hard-won karmic bank should not be emptied simply because I decide to gut a few hobos in my spare time. Get off my marginally heroic back.

So while I'm sitting pretty in the pew-pews I came to a strange realization. Fallout was not a very good game. Which is confusing because it's still a great game, one of the greatest... just not very good. Could my nostalgia be so wrong?

I mean, look at its combat system, both underdeveloped and burdened with utterly extraneous or impractically cosmetic skills, perks, etc. Look at its half implemented stealth system or its gigantic amounts of pointless map space, or its uneven leveling and loot distribution with huge gimmies like the Glow or the Deathclaw warehouses. Look at how tiny it is in number of towns / NPCs / quests / monsters compared to... say its close contemporary Baldur's Gate. So why, while I declared BG1 "good, not great" can I stand by retroactively labeling Fallout "great, not good" - ?

Aesthetic design plays a huge role. BG was kitchen sinked together from DnD tropes without much regard for coherence, but Fallout managed to cobble its own take on Cold War Apocalyptic fiction and keep it fresh. Visually and aurally it out-shone its competition in conveying its dusty, farcically grim setting. There's a reason why everyone still remembers "war... war never changes."

Just as importantly, it mastered the all-important art of escalation. As I commented in one of my Bloodlines posts, RPGs bank on the "rags to riches" narrative trope, and too many skimp on the rags. Fallout provided every step up the ladder, made you feel each incremental improvement from tossing rocks at rats to blasting genetically engineered monstrosities with laser chainguns and plasma rifles. The rocks are important, something easily forgotten in favor of the later industry standard of boosting the player to level three or five in the very tutorial. The crowbar became so emblematic of Half-Life because you actually used it!

More than that, Fallout successfully married its practical gameplay escalation to its thematic shift from the mundane to the Scie Fie. The monomythic hero's journey entails traveling to wondrous new realms, but those realms are wondrous only in contrast to hum-drum human normalcy. The mundane must occupy at least some screen time if you're to successfully offset your more alluring locales. Lothlorien and Mordor shine only in contrast to the Shire. Shady Sands is every bit as necessary as the Brotherhood of Steel. Lvl 1 is every bit as important as Lvl 20.

"Whatever happened to catching the good old-fashioned passionate ass-whooping and getting your shoes, coat and your hat tooken?"

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Mod 'er hate

"Moderates do not want to kill anyone in the name of God, but they want us to keep using the word "God" as though we knew what we were talking about. And they do not want anything too critical said about people who really believe in the God of their fathers, because tolerance, perhaps above all else, is sacred. To speak plainly and truthfully about the state of our world - to say, for instance, that both the Bible and the Koran contain mountains of life-destroying gibberish - is antithetical to tolerance as moderates currently conceive it. But we can no longer afford the luxury of of such political correctness. We must finally acknowledge the price we are paying to maintain the iconography of our ignorance."

Sam Harris - The End of Faith

I've probably watched a larger proportion of Thunderf00t's videos than of any other single poster on YouTube. Yeah, sure, he tends to ramble and knot himself in overly-verbose phraseology but hell, so do I. Being as I know very little of physics, I find his various pyromaniac videos entertaining enough. Being as I'm too lazy to do it myself, I also appreciate him running through basic estimates of energy transfer when debunking this-and-that. More impressively, he's managed to stay on the sane side of pretty much every topic from creationism to WWII military tech to Brexit to conspiracy theories to feminism and various SJW lunacy to crackpot inventions and scams.

Though really, for all his knack for pissing people off, his ballsiest moment had to have been speaking the words "group selection" in his conversation with none other than Richard Dawkins... without even immediately ducking!

In a couple of videos from earlier this year, he acknowledged that he no longer finds much reason to make videos about feminism, as some of the most ludicrous feminists from a few years ago have vastly decreased in popularity. The "crazy blue-haired feminists" pose nowhere near as immediate or severe a threat to reason as religious fundamentalists. In this Thunderf00t is, as usual, technically correct. The best kind of correct. Religious fundamentalism appears more widespread than feminist fundamentalism. But that unfortunately ignores the pervasiveness of "moderate" feminism and the very different localization of its fundamentalism.

Feminism is in many ways a placeholder religion for the post-modern age, one of the representations of the Shadow of God of which Nietzsche warned. It establishes an absolute good and an absolute evil (female vs. male) and condemns one and all for having been born into the original sin of The Patriarchy, which must be expiated by adopting and proselytizing the new faith. Like other faiths, it's fundamentally a business. It sells irrational hope (salvation through the feminist Utopia of perfect bovine peace and safety) and perhaps even more importantly it sells entitlement, the self-righteousness of the saved screeching at the infidels and launching into occasional pogroms. To some extent it has always coexisted with other faiths. If you want to start a tribal conflict, your most useful propaganda tool beyond even differences in traditional religion has always been the eternal battle cry of "save the women!"

Higher education gradually broke from religious indoctrination over the centuries. The Inquisition could not be reconciled with academic inquisitiveness. Religious fundamentalists' power base now mostly sticks to the sticks, to cultural backwaters, and the less educated the better. Feminist fundamentalism, on the other hand, is based in polite latte-sipping urbane discussion circles and especially in universities. It is in "women's studies" departments, two doors down the hall from Chemistry and Physics, that feminist scriptures are codified and feminist saints beatified. So it should've come as little surprise that Thunderf00t's main clash with feminists years ago took place within the (largely academic) atheist movement subverting itself through a new irrational faith even as it attacked the old ones.

If the intelligentsia are to stand up to religious fundamentalism, they must address the rot at the core of left-wing politics. The fundies may be the greater direct threat, but it's postmodernist objectivity-denying social justice activism and especially feminism with its overwhelming media circus which saps the only significant resistance to that threat. We've had a generation's worth of "skeptics" protesting blind faith while demanding we "always believe" all women. The center cannot hold.

And even if we ignore the uncomfortable academic and legal system seating arrangements for Fem Fundies, we're left with the much wider prevalence of moderate faith in feminist gospel. Even if most women would not describe themselves as feminist they still love the moral authority lent to them by the constant stream of abuse hurled at men by feminists. They love feminism for keeping the men in their lives on the defensive, easier to manipulate, easier to shame and guilt into servility. Male adherents love playing the "one good man" to their ever-observant mistresses, and if you're looking for any notion more widely accepted a priori than the purposeful influence of supernatural forces, look no further than "sugar and spice and everything nice." Extremists draw their legitimacy from moderates, and if a few fluorescent-haired loons have lost their star power over the past years, rest assured there are plenty more on the way.

"The benignity of most religious moderates does not suggest that religious faith is anything more sublime than a desperate marriage of hope and ignorance, nor does it guarantee that there is not a terrible price to be paid for limiting the scope of reason in our dealings with other human beings."

The basic propositions of feminism, its commandments, cardinal virtues and deadly sins, are less noticeable as such for their widespread public acceptance. Female moral purity and paranoia over female safety are so entrenched within our pre-sentient animal instincts as to make us accept even the most ludicrous statements like "rape culture" without a single critical thought. If anything, the feminists from five years ago have waned in individual popularity because their caterwauling has gone mainstream and they're splitting that pie many more ways. Are they less noticeable because they're less influential... or because we are no longer opposing their subversion of reason?

Sure, sure, you moderate women, you'd never make a false rape accusation. You'd never have a man fired and rendered unhireable for some bad joke he told years ago or because he had his fly open that one time or for touching you in a way that if you touched him would be considered flattery. You're tolerant like that. You're not on the warpath. You're not a Jihadist. You're a feminist moderate. You're a nice girl. You'd never ruin a man's life just on a whim.
But it's nice to know you could if you wanted to, isn't it? Gives you a little rush, holding that power over men's heads, doesn't it?

Men are being ostracized and driven to suicide or thrown in prison to be tortured to death by other inmates as rapists as soon as a woman points her finger at them. Our media over the past three decades have grown replete with depictions of women as perfect martyrs and men as stupid evil pigs deserving of death or worse, and no-one bats an eyelash anymore. Blue hair is the new normal and I have to wonder if Thunderf00t really can't notice that or if he, like Bill Maher in the past and many others, simply doesn't want to be targeted in the latest pogrom.

For my own part, looking at the world around me, I see no excuse to slack off the FEMale chauvINISM posts.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Art of Femismancy, Part 7: Periki's Overlook, Serpent's Crown and the Wahaki

I'm taking time during my second playthrough of Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire to tally up the supporting cast, (m)ale and (f)emale, and see how many are portrayed in a positive or negative light. Whether it's a heroic, benevolent woman surrounded by stupid, malicious males or a single mean, dumb man getting in the way of angelic women, how many times did Obsidian Entertainment need to re-iterate their chauvinistic tropes in a single game?

Periki's Overlook

Worthless Idiot (m) - recruitable imp. As with the guy with "dumb" in his very name, I really shouldn't have to explain why this one counts as negative. Imps are new in PoE2, and they're all male, and they're all loud, smelly, obnoxious, disgusting little vermin. And if you haven't played the game, that name's just the tip of the iceberg. As with Vektor (m) and Pietro (m) fecal matter is involved. Compare to the newly gendered portrayal of representatives from other monster races.

Hurwyna (f) & Seinu (f) -  expectant mother relying on Ancient ChineseHuana Secrets taught by her midwife.

Marihi (f) - highly skilled blacksmith who can repair your PoE1 weapons. No-nonsense "traditional" smith (whatever the hell that means in an island culture with no mining industry) only prettifying her utilitarian work for the tastes of the nobles. Insults Tekehu (m) and is praised by him.

Amreo (m) - old man who uncrosses his legs at the bath-house so you can have him punished by the authorities, because when men act like liberated women you have to beat them down.
Udyne (f) - centuries old war veteran soaking her battle scars at the bath-house. Helpful to Serafen and Remaro. Lays on the pre-Norman dialect even more thickly than Iselmyr or Yseyr... and yet manages to pull it off much better than them. Some of it is due to her dialogue's better flowing narration, more than just isolated caveman speak. Most of the credit must however go to the voice actress who just outright sold it, start to finish. Excellent work.

Quarno (m) - Rauataian at the bath house, trading illicitly with the Principi. Plus he's a total meaniehead who tells you to go away. Easily flattered into divulging his crime.
Tola (f) - Quarno's Principi contact. Startlingly, she's at least as susceptible as Quarno in your quest to get information for the Vailians (babbles when she's drunk) and a rare female character not portrayed in terms of her superiority (moral and/or practical) to her male counterpart. Someone dropped the ball on this one.

Shop Imp (m) - truth in advertisement and Ifren (m) - failed (and rude) thief trapped in a wooden puppet by Arkemyr. Both of them basically exist due to Arkemyr (making him look worse for creating and employing such abominations) and to provide counterpoints to Fassina's positive qualities.
Fassina (f) - recruitable clerk at The Dark Cupboard. Clever, sexually liberated, directly contrasted to her boyfriend in being gainfully employed. Like every other woman in this game, she's surrounded by stupid, evil, oppressive men, from a stinky imp to a shoplifting boyfriend, a whip-cracking, stingy boss and an obnoxious wooden (male) puppet. Oh that poor angelic woman having to deal with all those worthless bestial males! Though by this point in the game it's very much a case of "just a rerun heroine, just a retread heroine, just the same old heroine"
Bertenno (m) - "that flaccid bazzo!" in Fassina's words. Her boyfriend. Cowardly, dishonest, incompetent, deadbeat, whatever it takes to make his girlfriend look good by comparison.
Hamuto Stoneheel (m) - lawful neutral captain collecting Bertenno's debt at the Brass Citadel.

Tumara (f) - Rauataian who wants to get her hands on Arkemyr's epic stones. Greedy, insults illiterate islanders. However, unlike most Rauataians or especially Vailians' comments about the Archipelago (amounting to "squeeze, Rabban, squeeze") she actually makes a valid point about natives' willingness to sell off their own lands for quick profit.
Netehe (f) - Huana who wants to get her hands on Arkemyr's epic stones. For her people! Plays the cultural heritage card to its fullest. Obviously the politically correct choice here.
Arkemyr (m) - "the bringer of Foul Wind" according to Fassina. Complete stock character: the mean, stiff-necked, pompous old English boarding school master from any number of children's movies. Despite being the victim of your burglary (and really being one of the good guys, apocalypse-wise) his every description and verbal inflection is designed to make you hate him. Oh, and of course he failed to acknowledge the greatness of a woman.
Bekarna (f) - whose greatness a man failed to acknowledge. Despite being "dame not appearing in this entertainment product" her notes and others' commentary on her eat up more screen time than most faction leaders. Oh, look, it's yet another retread heroine positioned between two meanie men.
Concelhaut (m) - who's out to pilfer a woman's hard work for his own ignominious male ends. Downgraded from his somewhat dignified antagonist role in PoE1 to a cartoonish recurring bumbling weekly villain role.

Ekenu (m) - watershaper mook holding the door during the naga attack.

Guildmaster Mairu (f) - righteously indignant watershaper superior (in every way, and don't you forget it) to Tekehu, the first of many women to scold him for all the wrong reasons. Later, heroically holds off a horde of naga, unto death: "Too many, even for me." Y'know, at least Boromir had the decency not to be so smug about it. Not a word is said against her apropos her keeping a gigantic scaly slave in her basement.
Tekehu (m) - Mama's boy. Mr. 'don't hate me 'cause I'm beautiful.' Obviously intended as service to female fans, but that'll come up whenever I get around to complaining about romance minigames in RPGs. He's a tomcat waiting to be tamed, the chosen one of his people, a rising star, desired by other females and therefore desirable, in short the cheapest sort of romance novel detritus.
Amusingly, his main interactions seem to be getting badmouthed by every single person you meet. I'm sure this was intended to make him even more sympathetic in a "shut up Wesley" sort of way but it vastly overshoots its mark via repetition. Ondra: "he thinks himself frail but MY heart beats in his chest. He is stronger than either of you could know." Ok, so he's a whiny, unreliable prettyboy but I'm supposed to coddle and praise him because he embodies a female's purpose? Wooptie-freakin'-doo.
Notably, he gets shoved in your face as a romance option from the very first dialogue. You meet a tall handsome prince and immediately find yourself getting lost in his dark eyes.
Who the hell gave these idiots Lit. degrees?

Periki (f) - appears only in statue and soul form. Filthy liar. Caught a dragon by the tail, thus kicking off a generations-long and civilization-spanning government cover-up as to the source of Huana magicians' powers. Yet others' comments about her are nothing but admiration while her direct descriptions are shamelessly sympathetic. No, really. You hold her statue's hand, at which it literally cries a single tear which you have the honor of wiping off its cheek.
Quite the Dickensian treatment for a slave mistress. How come Master Kua (m) back in Crookspur doesn't get this kind of sympathy?
Bonus feminist points: her soul's memories begin with her brushing off a man's touch.
"One of [your shipmates] claps your back with approval.
You step back and aim a reproachful look at your mate, however friendly his intent."
Bad touch! Bad touch!
Scyorielaphas (m) - (and damn you for making me spellcheck that) Ok, pause for the inspired? accidental? humor of opening your dialogue with a gigantic, blatantly obvious dragon by shouting "Dragon!" But anyway, to further shift guilt away from the women who enslaved him, his first line is:
"Have you come to deliver me from this prison of my own making?"
When dumb, stinky boys get enslaved by the very people they tried to help, it's their own damn fault. So there.
Tekehu further brushes off any question of Mairu's treachery by instead focusing on "the gifts and encouragement" her guild lavished upon him, in true spineless millennial snowflake praise-junkie fashion.
Onekaza, when informed of the slave she's been keeping through her willful ignorance, pulls the usual "for my people" routine.
Skeereeoh-whatver's deliberately made less likeable by constantly insulting Obsidian's cheap gift to their female fanbase, Tekehu, by calling him "half-breed" - *gasp* racist dragon!
His parting shot, should you choose to continue enslaving him?
"Make no mistake. You are the only monster here."
Holy mother of hacks! That's your big dramatic finish? That line was already so overdone and antiquated that it got ridiculed on The Simpsons' Hungry Are the Damned Halloween special back in 1990 for being 1960s Twilight Zone cheese. "There were monsters on that ship and truly we were them."

Serpent's Crown

Takano (m) - useless old blowhard dick-measuring his estate's size, easily swindled out of his priceless macguffin because he's desperate because he's broke, which being he's also male gets played off as well-deserved and funny.

Nungata (f) - bounty contractor, stately old matron, eloquent, long heroic history of victories. The second woman to look down on you for working with Abocco (m) the bottomfeeder from Queen's Berth, and she only deals in high-end contracts. "A lady needs standards, after all."

Maia (f) - aside from her tough chick demeanor, her very introduction has her ridiculing both Eder (m) and Kana (m) and quizzing you on how to stop a mutiny, thus establishing her as a moral paragon

Barati (m) - bounty contractor, a.k.a. Big Chief Killumall. Seemingly exists to drop Tangaloa's name into every sentence and otherwise lay the Nativese dialect on as thick as possible. Not much of a personality otherwise.

Prince Aruihi (m) - Onekaza's foil. His first line "I say our guest forgets himself" a relatively soft rebuke of an unjust accusation of mass murder, immediately earns him a slam by his sister the queen "You are the one who mistakes this for a sparring arena." Yes, because implications of violence are beneath royalty and only a dumb male would ever resort to them. That's why Onekaza keeps TWO HUGE TIGERS by her side.
Same dull repetitive setup as the other factions. The Huana are ruled by a leader and second, one male one female, with any negative connotations embodied by the male. To motivate Aruihi to feed his city's starving underclass, playing on his sense of compassion or justice doesn't work. Only his competitiveness.
Onekaza (f) -intended as a supremely impressive and glamorous native queen... except she never actually does anything. The writers characterized themselves into a corner. They wanted Onekaza as grandiose and angelic as possible. Problem: grandeur's rarely angelic. So aside from her inexplicable telepathy and bragging about her pet tigers, she just sits back and delegates to her brother, to the guildmaster, to the Wahaki, never getting her hands dirty. Even the captive dragon under the city makes sure to note the Queen didn't know about him, just in case you were wondering whether a female faction leader might have some negative traits.
They don't.
All female leaders are always perfect.
So there.
Shut up.

Motare o Kozi

Baltia (f) - Vailian expedition's sole survivor, trapped in vines. Sent to their deaths by Director Castol (m) and specifically Castol, not his (f) assistant. They were tracking another (Huana) expedition sent to their deaths by Aruihi (m) and specifically Aruihi, not Onekaza (f)
The Green Lady (f) - menpwgra in the swamp, introduced as "The Rotted Lady" and she's "a very powerful woman" in the words of your quest journal. Sure she's a murderously parasitic blight upon all that breathes, but being female that's of course everyone else's fault but hers, and she can effortlessly be redeemed through dialogue back to her status as an ancient, wise guardian of the land.

Ori o Koiki

Kipeha (f) - plucky archer guarding the main entrance

Auata (f) - xenophobic islander. Likes Tekehu.
Aparo (m) - xenophilic islander. Likes Ruasare.

Tangara (m) - tribe's enforcer, repairing a purchased construct. Whatever happened to the Wahaki being isolationists?
Burapo (m) - tribe's mystic, stinking up the place with his burnt offerings.
Ruasare (f) - yet another idealized female native leader, because you can never paint with too many colors of the wind. By dint of savage nobility, the Wahaki tribe are all pretty glamorized. Sure they murder and pillage random passing ships, but they're totes not pirates, bro. Everything they do is entirely For My People and therefore justifiable, ekera.
Their leadership follows the usual structure from other factions. Burapo and Tangara are slightly ridiculous, inept, unimpressive old farts while Ruasare herself is described as mighty in battle and mighty in bed, blue-blooded going back millennia, last bulwark against foreign aggression, honorable, reliable, etc., etc. The most severe character flaw they could come up with for her? She likes fruit.

Saturday, July 14, 2018


"I got my propaganda
I got revisionism
I got my violence in high-def ultra-realism"

Nine Inch Nails - Survivalism

Spoiler alert: about Frostpunk's end-game (second screenshot) though as it's a strategy game most may not care.

So let's talk about a little city sim called Frostpunk. Think of it as Banished with a chance of flurries. Long story short: buy it!

Welcome to Niflheim.

Population: l'etat. Which is moi.
Plus a few hundred random schmucks who exist solely to sing my praises. If they don't, I'm sitting pretty up in the high tower with my thumb on the thermostat.
Plus a steam powered mecha workforce because why not.

Post-apocalyptic fiction has made a slow comeback this past decade, after petering out after the end of the Cold War back in the '90s. One might blame the near-collapse of Western economies in 2008 for such pessimism but the truth is the wall has simply accumulated so much writing that even hoi semi-literate polloi can get the gist of the message. Our world is overpopulated and under-regulated, overheating through its latest mass extinction. AK-47s are more popular than i-phones, nukes just as prolific and under less control than ever and millions of displaced superstitious hillbillies are displacing the politely self-destructive population of Europe. Our society's aping the beginning of the twentieth century from foppish prissiness to fascism right down to the fad for patent medicines and investment crises. So whether by invasion or infection, by fire, flood, famine or fallout, we know the end is coming. We know that if we live through the next few decades at all (unlikely) we'll likely find ourselves starving around campfires out in the wilderness telling our half feral, flea bitten grandchildren tales about the Before Times.

So survival games have multiplied and survival themes have colored other genres. In addition to this angle, Frostpunk shares Banished or Surviving Mars' much more coherent thematic focus than we expect from the game industry. Both its artistic flair and conservation of detail would earn welcome nods from Poe and Chekov. From the very first frame zooming in through the windblown snow to your citizens' hopeless, Oliver Twisted faces to the sight of a city full of smokestacks roaring through the darkest, coldest nights as massive automatons gingerly tiptoe among the industrial-age dwellings, immersion never slackens.

Even the town grid feeds into this central survivalist aesthetic. Does that panorama above look a little fish-eyed to you? No, it's not a special camera angle. In a highly inspired move, buildings are placed not on the usual Cartesian plane of most city simulators but on a polar (get it, Polar?) grid surrounding your central lifeline, the coal-powered generator, at 0,0. More than any other strategy game town hall or command center, more than even Homeworld's Mothership, the generator in Frostpunk embodies the hopes and fears of your populace. All habitable buildings are oriented toward it, half your industrial effort goes toward keeping it stuffed with coal and straying from it can mean death for your citizens.

Some may not enjoy having their playing style tied down to such an alpha and omega central structure, and may also feel restricted by Frostpunk's lack of randomization. Unlike other, usually sandboxy city simulators or base building games, Frostpunk is limited to pre-fabbed scenarios with scripted events and timelines. While tempted to bemoan this, I'm reminded of my own comments vis-a-vis Sir, You Are Being Hunted: sufficiently testing randomness to see that it truly works might have eaten up much more development time than simply creating individual scenarios.

As it stands, each of Frostpunk's scenarios is a joy the first time through and provides enough variation via citizen deaths and whatnot for at least a second and third run. After all, it's not so much a game about the events affecting you as about your own actions:
As the leader of your stalwart band of refugees, you must do whatever it takes to ensure your colony's continued survival.
Whatever. It. Takes.
The design of the technology trees with their gradual slip from keeping the peace to overcompensation to outright tyranny charts a beautiful slippery slope. When the time comes to take that final plunge into sadistic despotism you'll probably realize, belatedly, that this is what you've been doing all along. It's better writing than you'll find in all but a few cRPGs or maybe Alpha Centauri, and your technology path is as much a matter of roleplaying as of sheer necessity.

Just how much of a control-freak oppressive bastard are you willing to become?

Monday, July 9, 2018

Lives of the Saints

Here's a funny story:
Way back in 1913 Emmett O'Davids, born to a Catholic Irish family in Kilburn within London, died a tragic death as he championed the cause of Irish Nationalism. O'Davids had previously come to the authorities' attention on several occasions, having been described as "one of the most daring and reckless of the London Irish militants" of his time. He was jailed for two months for throwing stones at the window of a cabinet ministers' meeting, which he "meant as a warning to the general public of the personal risk they run in future if they go to Cabinet Ministers' meetings anywhere" and once hid in the heating system of the Palace of Westminster overnight in an effort to speak directly to the Prime Minister. He was not charged with any crimes for this and other such acts of infiltration, but only when he escalated to setting fire to the postbox outside Parliament. Determined to continue, he was further arrested while trying to throw a stone at a car he mistakenly believed to be carrying Lord Asquith and for attacking a protestant vicar's wife with a bullwhip, having again mistaken her for Lady Margot Asquith.

On the morning of 4 June 1913, O'Davids obtained two flags bearing Irish colours from his favourite pub in Kilburn and traveled by train to Epson, Surrey to attend the Derby. As the horses were passing his position, he ducked under the guard-rail flags in hand, rushed onto the track and made a grab for the reigns of Amner (King George V's horse) as it rushed past at ~55 km/h. He was (predictably enough) knocked to the ground and rushed unconscious to the hospital, but died two days later of his injuries.


How much sympathy do you have for this ludicrous character? Not much? Just another thrill-seeking violent extremist who seemed more interested in making a spectacle of himself than making a rational case and ended up dying a classic, stupidly reckless Darwin Awards death.

What if I were to remind you that I'm actually citing the exploits and death of the feminist Emily Davison, with genders flipped and Irish Nationalism substituted for women's votes? Now how much sympathy do you have for her rather than him? A lot more, I'm guessing.

Regardless of what you think of Irish separatism (I'm no particular fan of it myself; it was just a handy reference) the marginalization and demonization of the Irish and their poor living conditions both within and without their little rocky sham of a homeland compose an exceedingly well-documented slice of history. In fact, in the same year as Davison's death, 1913, this was going on in Dublin: union strikes, lockouts, destitution and hunger. I specifically omitted the often lamented suffragette penance of getting force-fed in prison when they went on hunger strikes. Compare to: "The "Kiddies' Scheme", for the starving children of Irish strikers to be temporarily looked after by British trade unionists, was blocked by the Roman Catholic Church and especially the Ancient Order of Hibernians, who claimed that Catholic children would be subject to Protestant or atheist influences when in Britain." Yes, within a year of Davison being denied her self-imposed martyrdom, Irish children were dying of actual starvation and the ultimate complaint against feeding starving kids was that it might interfere with their superstitious indoctrination.

The least believable element of my gender-bent narrative above would have to be that some random Irishman caught Westminstering after dark would get away with a warning in 1913, unless that warning came in the form of several cracked ribs and a standard "assaulting a pig" prison sentence. Especially as a repeat offender. In fact, screw the Irish. Compare feminists' glamorized "suffering until suffrage" to any political conflict from the late nineteenth or early twentieth century, be it class, ethnic or religious, even within the relatively humanist Europe. The phrase "with kid gloves" doesn't even begin to describe these girls' treatment. Most kids would've been deemed unfit for suffragette-quality gloves!

There's a good reason why feminists have advertised themselves as "intersectional" these past couple of decades. They desperately need to leech some legitimacy from other social movements, or else their entire propaganda machine will at long last collapse under its own hypocrisy and irrelevance. So whenever you hear one of those sappy documentary/infomercials about women's suffering at the hands of men (the hagiography of our modern age) go ahead and read up on those women's actual quality of life and treatment compared to other social norms within that time and place. Compare the constant concessions feminists have extracted for themselves compared to other activists, the tactics they employed and the much less frequent or severe repercussions they suffered. Look at the real issues, not the overemotional, fanatical glorification of women to which we're born and into which we're further indoctrinated all our lives.

Try to imagine a male atheist ambushing an Anglican nun in a London street in 1913 and whipping her to make some sort of deranged quasi-point about the need for secular schooling. Arrested? He'd have been lucky to make it out alive as half a dozen nearby men rushed to tear him to pieces.

You are instinctively pre-programmed to favor women. Your subconscious instincts are being used against you.
Wake up.

edit 2018/07/13:
Shortened title because it was the bothering the me.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Punkier than Thou

"And oh, Mrs. O
Can you teach us how to keep from getting cold
Out we go and you watch us as we face the falling snow
What a show
With our hairdryers aimed heavenwards
And fifty-foot extension cords
You really have a way with words"

The Dresden Dolls - Mrs. O

Spoilers: Frostpunk ... is both frosty and punky.
I hate game achievements (nobody should be telling me how to play) but I have occasionally glanced at such lists. Call it morbid curiousity, seeing how others choose to judge and pigeonhole me. Good Old Games is almost as guilty on this account as Steam, shoving the achievements list in your face every time you fire up a game through its distribution program.

My most recent acquisition is a post-apocalyptic frozen wasteland base building game. Longer story to follow. Short version: if you're a fan of Tyranny or golden oldies like Alpha Centauri filled with harsh decisions, you owe it to yourself to try Frostpunk. Keep your citizens warm, fed and generally alive in a Cocytus in all but name... by any means necessary.
After several failed starts I finally managed to win the "A New Home" scenario and got to glory in watching my town's furnace pumping at overdrive through the nailbiter of a final challenge. Then upon embarking on a second expedition I happened upon this observation:
I'm well aware these usage statistics may mislead. I've always found it unlikely that so few people who buy a game will actually play it to the end. Only 40%, really? And that's twice the proportion of some others like RPGs. Still, when discussing two closely related feats within the same game I can safely say I'm comparing apples to apples.

Only 3/4 of the people who finished the scenario did so by doing the thing by which you finish the scenario. While a fully upgraded main generator is not the only way to heat homes, it does cover a wider radius than its smaller counterparts, and seemed an obvious choice to me even on a first attempt to fully heat hundreds upon hundreds of citizens' houses.

At first I started wondering how everyone else had managed to cover all that ground. After all, the game's not all that difficult once you learn to juggle its options, and I could think of several. Steam hubs? Hot rations through the religious tree? Endless automatons performing all labor?

Sure, any of those might work. Then it dawned on me that maybe not everyone was obsessing over saving every last possible remnant of humanity, like myself. An area with radius length one is much easier to thaw out than radius length four, and you can probably still get credit for finishing the scenario with even just one survivor or one household. The suburbs? Corpsecicles.

So... yeah... in a game which already has you leading a desperate last bastion of humanity with an iron fist, in a story already centered on making a hellhole even more hellish, you assholes managed to somehow make things even worse by adding neglect to deprivation, drudgery and oppression. So it goes.

This fucking species, I swear...

Monday, July 2, 2018

The Art of Femismancy, Part 6: The Brass Citadel, Hasongo and Sayuka

I'm taking time during my second playthrough of Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire to tally up the supporting cast, (m)ale and (f)emale, and see how many are portrayed in a positive or negative light. How does Obsidian Entertainment glorify women at the expense of men?

Interestingly, both the Brass Citadel and Hasongo are overall much less fanatical in pushing political correctness or trite good woman / bad man dichotomies. It's subtle while running quests back and forth but blatant enough when separated from the rest of the game that I'd wager on the Rautaians having been created by someone outside the central coven of Deadfire's "writers."

The Brass Citadel

Rauataian Guard (f) - standing by the entrance, accuses:
Vailian Merchant (f) - of espionage. Not much difference between them. Both insult and distrust each other.

Rauataian Guard (m) - technocrat
Kuaru Artisan (f) - luddite
A spirited debate among equals! Male and female, technology and primitivism, conversing for mutual enlightenment! How fair-minded!
Now let's get back to the other 95% of the game with its blameless noble savages standing up to greedy, scheming ersatz Europeans and all those saintly women so oppressed by stupid, drunk, backward, evil, incompetent, mean, useless, disgusting MEN.

Orlan Peddler (f) - gives an unexpectedly sedate and unromanticized outlook on Rauataian imperialism

Emeini (f) - cannonball girl, undergoing cruel and unusual punishment by The Man for punching her captain, Wakoyo (m) after he insulted her cannoneering expertise.
Fleet-Master Wakoyo (m) - bounty contractor, for some inexplicable reason given a pompous s'thern g'n'lman speech pattern but there's not much else to him. At least he's not spouting quaint ethnicisms every other word, ekera.

Sabormi (f) - aggravatingly chipper clerk at Imperial Command.

Maia (f) - your sniper companion. Turns out she's been assassinating people, but she's allowed to retain the moral high ground through remorse so she somehow comes out sounding like a victim.
Atsura (m) - spymaster for the Rauataians, taking the blame for Maia's assassinations. Puts a male face on all the negative aspects of Rauataian militarism, and acts creepy to boot. Every dialogue with him is padded with lines like "greets you with a hard-edged laugh that barely sounds like his own." oooh, eeeee-vil. Note the Rauataians and Vailians have inverted gender structures in their leadership. As you progress through both, you learn more about their bad side.
For the Vailians, this means you cease to work through the (f) second in command, so the more negative aspects are embodied by the (m) leader.
For the Rauataians, it means you... continue to work with the (m) second in command up to the end, to continue embodying the negative aspects as male.
Even when the poor guy is openly opposing slavery, your dialogue options lead you to question his motives as though he's doing something wrong.
Hazanui Karu (f) - adventurous, heroic one-armed not-a-bandit leading the Rautaian forces in the Deadfire. "Don't tell me you've never gazed at a horizon and wondered at what lies beyond. Or seen a 'no trespassing' sign as a challenge." Daring, strategic action girl whose hand has been pre-washed of any skullduggery. This should be a highly familiar setup by this point in Obsidian's little epic fempic: two or more women performing heroic deeds while a man they both interact with is somehow guilty of all incumbent wrongdoing.


Zuhira (f) - shellshocked leader of the Rauataian survivors. Both sympathetic and admirable in desperately trying to hold it together.

Aimuro (m) - fatalistic, calm and collected engineer who cares more about his work than his life.

Yanass (f) - dead naga, of those attacking the Rautaians for despoiling the land with their technology. For a snake creature, surprisingly sympathetic: "Now there is no way and no light. I am afraid."

Sugaan (m) - naga leader. Asks for reasonable proof of your magical powers before letting you approach your goal, and accepts said proof in a reasonable manner. Amazing!

Bearn (m) - son of Eder's old flame. Brainwashed by cultists after leading a hard life. His dialogue actually comes across as much more nuanced than most, reminiscent of PoE1's better points.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled male-bashing:


Tebe (f) - glib Huana greeter on the docks. Prescient too! She just *knows* (or dare I say intuits) that Galawain (m) is behind the giant creatures plaguing their town. Oh, and she "certainly will not" call her male boss "sir"
vs. her supervisor, the nameless
Undersecretary (m) - mean, stuffy Rautaian man crushing Tebe's free native womanly spirit: "and no smiling!" - no, seriously, that's his second spoken sentence, no smiling.
One of your own character's dialogue options is a conspiratorial aside to Tebe: "[Whisper]: 'Is it just me or is this guy terrible?'" Why, yes, when the writing team chooses to write him as terrible, the guy is indeed terrible.
For bonus "intersectional" feminist points, count the number of times this game's writers equate their glorified angelic natives (Huana) with their glorified angelic women.

Iverra (f) - inventive, scientifically-inclined Vailian willing to get herself smuggled in a crate for a chance to continue her research.

Okaya (f) - serious, mathematically-inclined Rauataian Fleet Master of Sayuka. Has a crush on Karu (f) and warns you against Atsura (m) Though juxtaposed against the idealized Huana as their invader, she never does anything even remotely antagonistic beyond merely defending her town. Disposable males are instead conveniently interposed between herself and the Huana women bucking Rauataian oppression (the undersecretary above and Weto below.) Even the Huana druids she sends you to kill are minimally developed and rather unlikeable. Wants you to stop the constant stream of super-sized creatures attacking Sayuka.
Galawain (m) - the source of the monsters attacking Sayuka, via ancient sunken magitek. Wants you to preserve the machinery making all the kaiju. He gets the same treatment as Rymrgand in his Sacred Stair appearance, stripped of all positive or balancing attributes and relegated to the status of boogeyman, and unsurprisingly he's again positioned as directly antagonistic to a female questgiver. In PoE1, Galawain was the god of beasts, the hunt, survivalism, etc. but that also meant vitality, savvy, courage, caution, occasional cooperation and anything else that plays into the evolutionary struggle. His god quest fully acknowledged the validity of strategic thinking and combative caution. Now in his PoE2 feminist reinterpretation, Galawain's degraded to a simpleminded force of destruction who just likes things big. End of story. Even the Kraken formerly (indirectly) associated with the sea goddess Ondra (f) in The White March is now Galawain's pet. Well, naturally. It's ugly and evil, so it belongs to a man.

Tipa (f) - recalcitrant native railing against Rauataian expansion. Rattles off social justice warrior catchphrases against imperialism like a humanities graduate: "protect our culture" because they're only trying to seduce us with their technologically advanced trade goods, we don't need their superior technology because we're in tune with the land, and anyway, their helping us was "only a ploy to make us dependent on them" and best of all "our differences make us strong" even when those differences come in the form of an oppressive caste system
Weto (m) - Tipa's brother, pro-Rauataian. The dialogue is presented as a standard RPG prompt to choose between two equal sides. In practice, Weto accrues not one third of Tipa's lines and nowhere near her barrage of righteous indignation.
If you side with Weto, the dialogue ends with him telling you: "don't mind my sister - her heart is in the right place."
If you side with Tipa, it's "Weto shakes his head sadly. He tries to put his hand on his sister's shoulder, but she shrugs him off, a look of disgust curling her lips."
Can you spot the rampant moral entitlement written into that supposedly two-sided roleplaying choice?
Can you spot the gratuitous interposition of a strawman? Both Tebe and Tipa's rants could just as easily have been directed at Okaya herself, yet they were provided with male targets for their abuse. When Rauatai is represented by hyper-competent, overworked, pedantic fleet masters, they're all heroic warrior women. When Rauatai needs to lose an argument as stiff-necked imperialist scum, <insert male here>

Waturi (m) - pompous, selfish high-caste native: "I am Mataru, a warrior. The best quarters are mine by right." Oh, and he snores. Are we sure he doesn't also spill ale on his pants and shit them while sweating profusely, like so many other men in this game?
Osauro (f) - middle-caste, middle-aged woman magnanimously teaching a lower-caste man how to tie rugs. "Putting up" with the presence of Waturi in the longhouse.
Nedunga (m) - kindly lower-caste man bettering himself by learning a trade. Conveniently old and directly suppliant before a socially superior woman, so he's permitted a favorable characterization.

Remaro (m) - Serafen's friend and former mentor. Morally upright. Branded an outlaw by his own pirate faction for fear he might out them as slavers.
Malnaj (f) - Serafen's abuser from back in his tragic youth, hunting Remaro's bounty. Here we have, at last, a true villainess both disliked by others and objectively on the wrong side of an ethical question. Take any negative character trait and Malnaj probably has it. She's cruel, ugly (by standard human standards) boastful, heartless, underhanded, etc. all in a very short appearance. In fact Malnaj has such a suspiciously high concentration of negative traits, in such direct contrast to every other woman in the game, as to be an obvious decoy the writers could point to in response to criticism like my own.
Yet they still could not bring themselves to completely trash her like they do the men. For all her negative traits she at least displays competence in her attempted task, unlike other villains like Benweth (m) or Anaharu (m) or Degnos (m) or the Valeras (m)(m) or Bertenno (m) etc. all of whom moronically stumble over themselves in their thievery / treason / general destructiveness.But hey! I can honestly say Deadfire features one (1) truly, decisively negative female character. And she appears for about half a page, in an easily skippable companion quest no less.
Ever heard of the exception that proves the rule?