Tuesday, April 30, 2019

These days, university professors are afraid to even talk to students for being accused of "grooming them" for sexual shenanigans. (Because it obviously can't be the 20-year-olds who are the oversexed, transgressive ones.) I suppose they don't have that problem with me because I'm too old to be groomed. Old enough to groom myself.

Wow, how's that for the most passively microaggressive insult ever?
Go groom yourself!

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Pathflounder: Munchkinmaker

"These Drizzt ripoffs are getting out of hand. I'm starting to wonder if there might be more renegade drow than there are regular drow."

Goblins (2005/07/11)

Tolkien's Middle-Earth makes so apt a comparison to various types of entertainment for having straddled so many categories, dragging folklore into modernity, melding symbolism and memorable characters while fleshing out so internally coherent a cosmology that it has remained our greatest reference point for deliberate fictional world-building. Between penning The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, however, that world had to be partly un-built. Casually whimsical digressions like talking coin-purses were either abandoned or heavily downplayed in order to accommodate the more logical causes and effects of a superior narrative.

On the other hand, this?
This is not a superior narrative.

Despite its reliance on Tolkien's orcs and elves, Dungeons and Dragons never seems to have been good at separating bad ideas from good. Aside from the baser sword and sorcery tripe, the many-muscled, mealy-mouthed Conans which infect its basic concept, it also appears prone to latching on to various pulp fads in vain attempts to stay trendy. When 4th edition finally jumped the shark, Pathfinder branched off as what should have been a more respectable alternative. Or at least so I thought as an outsider to tabletop games, and nursed vain hopes that Pathfinder: Kingmaker would trim away some of the talking purses and sow's ears to build a deep and coherent cRPG world. Instead it reeks of the Neverwinter Nights "baby's first RPG" idiot-friendly routine of simplistic characters, force-fed morality and wouldn't-it-be-cool-if insertions.

Mimics are the sort of notion which sounds cool on a bar napkin - and should stay there. There's suspension of disbelief and then there are monster ideas that would've even made Bavarian children in 1800 roll their eyes at the sheer absurdity. They derail the feel of the entire world around them. Might as well put in sock puppets as witches' familiars while you're at it. Oh, what's that? They did that too by allowing casters to substitute items instead of pets as familiars? Par for the course I suppose, in a game with a pair of pretty young demi-humans (bad boy and good girl, natch) with a tragic slavery backstory as sexed-up fan service props.

But I could stomach most of the gratuitously min-maxed, simplistic NPCs until I hit the "season pass" content and realized just what utter garbage I'd paid extra for. Both installments' central NPCs so far are touted as romance options, which in itself would be reason enough to cringe. But the playable one, Kalikke/Kanerah (yes, she's a "they" ... ugh) is just utterly disgusting all around. For one thing, she's yet another charmingly dashing non-evil tsundere tiefling with a heart of gold.
"- and so, in leaving behind my fiendish heritage, I became hated by the drow and instantly gained an ultra-cool enemy which vicariously gives my character importance" - Goblins 
Though, in the spirit of counting one's curses, at least this latest version of Annah/Haer'Dalis/Neeshka isn't also a rogue. She's a "kineticist" which is worse. Much, much worse.

Magic is usually presented as the fantasy-land equivalent to real-world science. Thus it is rightly a realm of the mind, of sagacity, careful study and preparation. Though it may accompany crass physicality, it should never be confused with it. Sorcerers were a bad enough digression from the arts of the mind, and warlocks were inexcusable, but the kineticist seems entirely ripped off from that imbecilic Airbender farce. Super-saiyan kamehamonks? Elrond and Mithrandir would turn over in their graves. No thanks. Spellcasting should never be demeaned by such filth. Despite everything you're told in liberal arts college departments, you're not obligated to pander to every last degenerate little backbirth's demands to copy/paste the latest half-hour toy commercial into your product.

I told Kalikke to take a hike. At this point, in order to buy anything else from Owlcat Games I'd have to see either some stunningly glowing reviews or a pretty lengthy list of all the employees they've fired and replaced with someone more intellectually competent. Yes, I get that they wanted to secure themselves an audience while it's young, but marketing to children should not mean marketing only to stupid children. I don't need you to include my childhood into your product either, no matter how hilarious it would be to see you try to shoehorn Captain Planet into Faerun.

And guess what? Those worthless little twerps you think you're attracting by spoonfeeding them munchkin-friendly props are not interested in single-player cRPGs anyway. They're in World of Warcraft, modeling their latest spaulders and holding pissing contests about their DPS. The smarter teens, the ones you should be marketing to, are the ones who appreciate the shift in tone between Tolkien's main incarnations of Middle-Earth, the greater depth and structure of LOTR and The Silmarillon.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Apocalyptic Procedurals

"In my dream I was drowning my sorrows
But my sorrows, they learned to swim"

U2 - Until the End of the World

Spoiler alert: main plot element of Arrival.

A relative's visit prompted a family movie night, which got me to finally watch Arrival. As first contact stories go, it's no Glos Pana, but still a decently executed bit of speculation. As long as you ignore the Hollywood convention that emotion trumps intellect and that acting like a reckless, impulsive, codependent, grade epsilon sub-moron always yields scientific progress. Instead of, y'know, rational inquiry, conceptualization, analysis and experimentation.

I'm more insulted by the even more anti-intellectually fatalistic conclusion, and 'fatalistic' doesn't begin to describe it. The movie's wikipedia page wisely links to the concept of amor fati which, while valuable inasmuch as it expresses unblinking realism, can easily be taken to counterproductive conclusions. The sort of automatic, unbidden prescience Arrival's protagonist experiences, propped up no less by an interpersonal device like language and not individual cogitation, reminds me of Philip K. Dick's The Golden Man.* It is less likely to yield a new age of advancement, peace and prosperity than a devolution to purely reactive, sub-sentient interfacing with one's environment. It would mean the end of thought, an apocalypse more thorough than any pandemic or nuclear holocaust.

But this train of thought did drive me to ask why we see so little attention paid these days to the "how" of the world's end. Post-apocalyptic fiction has made a comeback after 2008, but unlike the old Cold War variety, new stories tend to elide the apocalypse itself or as often reference it as simply a mysterious "event" somewhere in the background. The Road likely serves as the Ur-example to our current trend, and hey, no complaints as to that itself. Beautiful piece of work. Movies have picked up on the idea of systems collapse and tend to run with an everyman road warrior's poignant, relatable point of view of the end.

The Rover banks on anomie squared and seems a deliberate slap in the face to Mad Max's cut-and-dried antiheroics and Hollywood gritty-prettiness.
How I Live Now falls on the positive, adaptive side of amor fati. Thanks in no small part to Saoirse Ronan's restrained intensity it manages to partly elevate adolescent angst to its apocalyptic scenario instead of degrading the second to the baseline of the first.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World takes a marginally more black-humorous bent, but at least it defined its apocalypse.
Melancholia went a step further and masterfully wed looming celestial menace to psychological catastrophism, fatalism and personal fables.

Still, my personal tastes lead me to think we're leaving too much sci out of our apoca-fi these days, too much how out of the what, and here zombie movies can prove surprisingly encouraging. After all, much of their fascination lies in the process of infection and mortification itself. The under-appreciated Maggie successfully recalled these basic elements at the individual level. At the other end of the spectrum you have World War Z's globetrotting militarism and for once I think that martial 'can do' attitude may be warranted. Unfortunately it doesn't help that attempts at characterizing some naturalistic means of mass destruction like The Happening have been so scientifically illiterate as to make their 1950s monster movie inspirations look erudite by comparison.

While the image of a plucky survivor treading the chaotic tides of a history much greater than oneself is a valuable and touching mode of storytelling, movies have fallen too far into that mindset. We should remember the influence of deliberate (if not always conscious) action in shaping the world. Apocalyptic stories should rightly deal not only with the divergent impact of a great event on different parts of the world but on the myriad ways in which humans (fail to) adapt to a new idea, technology or event. Place more emphasis on  the naked apes' incompetence and sadomasochism, machinations or critical failure to machinate; provide step by step guides to combating or engendering the end of all things. How does your great event halt the intellectual upswing of civilization? By what means do the worthy few seek to combat it? What resources and organization do they adopt to solve the problem - or as a corollary, by what mechanistic suite of events do they bring about their world's demise? Don't just tell me civilization has crumbled. Depict the crumbling and the crumblers.

Love the bomb.


*No, NOT that idiotic farce of a movie adaptation with Nick Cage. Go read PKD's actual story The Golden Man.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Why did the Argonian refuse to stab elves? He had no sense of hew-mer.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Smells Gamey

Since starting this blog, more and more of the games I've been talking about have broken the mold of moldy old computer game genres, or at least vary the formulae noticeably. Sure I may just be noticing my own shifting bias, but they also seem to be getting more traction with the market at large.

As the post-Y2K WoW and Counterstrike-fueled craze died down last decade, consoles have once again been overtaking the braindead l33t-d00d multiplayer scene, leaving more PC game developers to resign themselves to being the artsy, low-budget, low-fidelity, niche market fringe of the industry. RPGs have been making a comeback along with (unfortunately) gratuitously pixelated "neo-retro" junk. But the back to basics trend has also thankfully included some effort to re-emphasize gameplay, to offer players new things to do and not just new scenery to do them in. Into the Breach or The Last Federation may not be topping the charts, but they are at least being created and receiving positive press, which is more than could be said about new ideas in the first fifteen years of the new millennium. Good Old Games has certainly helped bring attention to otherwise ignored options, as has Paradox's willingness to take chances.

... But dare I hope this also represents a change in the preferences of up-and-coming gamers? Might the current crop of tweens just developing their tastes be marginally more interested in embracing novel experiences instead of just demanding to be patted on the back for repeating formulaic actions? Might Doom and Warcraft have finally become uncool by dint of representing my own generation's preferences? Do they reek of dad funk? Yes, please let that be the case. Hate us. We suck. FPS, RTS, that crap's for old fogeys. Get off my lawn you crazy kids! In fact, get your own damn lawn so I can play on it, because we seriously need some fresh lawns around here. Ours are all wilted and gone to seed. Old lawns are for squares, daddy-o.

Huh, what was I talking about again? Oh yeah: Tetris!
Wait, no...

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Within the Event Horizon, All Cats Are Grey

"So go ahead and point your finger
Tell me who to love: is it him or her?"

In This Moment - Natural Born Sinner

Normally I try to space out my posts tagged "humanity" or "faithosis" or "FEMale chauvINISM" because
1) my hilariously sparse, single-digit readership doesn't want to hear me yammer about that crap constantly. They prefer video games and SciFi.
2) and more importantly, I don't want to yammer about that crap constantly. I'd rather be talking about cool stuff... like video games and SciFi.

But some undeniably cool beans were spilled last week in the real world of non-fictional science, and one of them had a video component, so I started surfing yesterday to cobble together some fanciful riff combining the new hominid (sub?)species and the first successful imaging of a black hole. It was going to include the predictable Muse song lyric quote and everything. Which is when I ran into this crap: 
"Male Scientist Claps Back at Trolls Who Tried to Discredit Female Colleague's Role in Black Hole Photo"
So after losing half of you by denouncing male bashing in my last post I'm going to lose the other half now by denouncing female bashing. I decided to sleep on it until today to calm down so that this entire post would not resolve to a page full of yelling YOU FUCKING RETARDS.

And hey, the good guy in that article's an Ursula K. Le Guin fan. Implicit high-five! It seems appropriate enough to the topic at hand, since Le Guin's most interesting work The Dispossessed deals largely with the betrayal of idealism by base human nature. As the black hole image was being announced, one of the (many, many) researchers involved in processing the data posted a facebook picture of herself excited at the unveiling. And the internet apparently went ape over it. Given that I only engage in anti-social media, I could not have given two shits about her booked face picture even if you doped me with laxatives. I do, however, care about intellectual integrity, which is why this latest chapter in the decline of civilization ticks me off.

I despise feminism as a chauvinistic, dogmatic, dishonest, reactionary scourge upon society. I will also gladly denounce feminism's much more pervasive instinctive basis, gynocentrism, the presumption of females' greater right to health, safety and happiness, the presumption of women's entitlement to extract labor from men, the presumption that society must be built around feminine nesting instincts, as one of the basic intellectual hurdles our primitive species must overcome if it wants to consider itself sentient, along with religion or tribalism. Certainly, there is some truth to observing the incongruity in a 4/5ths male research project being represented in our public consciousness by a female. I don't doubt the various internet personalities and media outlets who popularized her picture could have found plenty of images of the project's males geeking out in turn over their success. But they weren't as cute. We instinctively respond more favorably to a female presence, whether we're male or female. Yes, this creates an unconscious pervasive bias, as can be demonstrated rather flamboyantly by every male band with a female vocalist and media figurehead.

So it would've been perfectly reasonable for people to complain to everyone linking and reposting the latest meme "yeah, ok, now how about popularizing some other images of the various research teams involved instead of just that one adorable girlish squee" ... but that's not what the Twit mobs did, is it YOU FUCKING RETARDS! You decided to attack the woman in question. And of the thousands involved in the whole overblown burst of interwebz hot air, if there was one singular person who was not at fault, that was Bouman herself. She saw the result of years of work, proof of her participation in the advancement of scientific knowledge, materializing before her. She was excited about it. Damn straight. She had every right to be excited and still does. I may not be as fluent in the vernacular as I should be, but I do believe the phrase "you go girl" applies.

Social advancement is not about male vs. female or left wing vs. right wing but about intellect vs. stupidity, reason and creativity vs. the lowest common denominator. Always has been. Inasmuch as feminism appeals to base instinct and sentimentality over free thinking and prevents individual growth, I despise it... and when meninists do the same, they evoke the same scorn. Only four and a half years ago we were arguing over the debasement of Matt Taylor by morons trying to erase his professional achievement, astroturfing a battle of the sexes over (it never sounds any less ridiculous) the shirt off his back. Now his self-appointed public defenders want to debase another scientist... over what? Some pissing contest over lines-of-code counts? Even if you were right (and you're apparently off by more than an order of magnitude) you would still be wrong. Quantity is not quality and you're objectively not in a position to judge that from across a Twit feed. If your answer to everything that happens around you is limited to a knee-jerk "another victim of the fem-o-centric fem-ocracy!" you're not an edgy social critic. You're feminism's poorer cousin.

If you have a complaint about CNN's choices of material, go bitch about it to CNN. Better yet, apply for a job with them and try to be more balanced, sedate and objective. If, however, you are demeaning an intellectual achievement by reducing it to the physical attributes of its collaborators, you are part of the anti-intellectual problem. You are as bad as the feminists claiming the spotlight by right of ovaries YOU FUCKING RETARDS!!!

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Eliminate the Ninnies and the Twits

"See I'm just like you in a way [...]
I can relate to what you're saying in your songs
So when I have a shitty day I drift away and put 'em on
'Cause I don't really got shit else so that shit helps when I'm depressed"

Eminem - Stan

If you haven't read the short and never-to-be-completed webcomic Nowhere Girl, go ahead and get in touch with your despondent adolescent social outcast. It's a lovely piece of work.
If you haven't read (not watched) The Island of Doctor Moreau... then what have you even been doing with your life?

Fun fact: you don't have to be a soot-smeared 1830s London street urchin to enjoy Oliver Twist. Nor must you be an 1890s animal rights activist to have your mind uplifted by The Island of Doctor Moreau.

Not so fun fact: back in 1970, the United States government, in the persons of its Ohio National Guard, decided to murder some university students as punishment for protesting its ongoing mass murders in the Vietnam War. In the words of Jerry Casale:
"Until then I was a hippie. I thought that the world is essentially good. If people were evil, there was justice and that the law mattered. All of those silly naïve things. I saw the depths of the horrors and lies and the evil. In the paper that evening, the Akron Beacon Journal, said that students were running around armed and that officers had been hurt. So deputy sheriffs went out and deputized citizens. They drove around with shotguns and there was martial law for ten days. 7 PM curfew. It was open season the students. We lived in fear. Helicopters surrounding the city with hourly rotating runs out to the West Side and back downtown. All first amendment rights are suspended at the instance when the governor gives the order. All of the class action suits by the parents of the slain students were all dismissed out of court because once the governor announced martial law, they had no right to assemble."
He and another Kent state student co-founded a musical group and went on to regale audiences with subversive, astringent clowning as part of the late '70s-80s band Devo. Yes, the yellow jumpsuit, red conehead, whip-cracking crew. Whatever you think of Devo's mostly fumbling musical attempts, they remained one of the few relevant political acts in the post-hippie era of MTV glam.

On a completely unrelated topic, though I'd chuckled at an occasional PvP or Penny Arcade strip I didn't take webcomics seriously as a creative medium until in 2001 I ran across Christopher Baldwin's Bruno and Justine Shaw's Nowhere Girl. That shift in mindset is now being reversed by other such comics' descent into fatuous snowflake moral posturing. Which might sound weird because Nowhere Girl itself was after all about a gay chick and her gay imaginary boyfriend (it makes more sense in context) so why would I mind comics being totes gayballs nowadays? Because it didn't matter. Nowhere Girl was a story about solitude, false hopes, miscommunication and despair. That her race or sexual orientation may have catalyzed Jaime's ostracism by her supposed peers made it no more relevant than any other catalyst. Whatever the author's intent, that abortive first chapter successfully leveraged "prick us, do we not bleed" into a believable character inhabiting a (sadly) coherent world which does not stand or break upon the heroine's personal preferences.

But that's yesterday's news. To the social activist cartoonists of decades later, it's no longer enough for their heroines to find a few like minds. They must fabricate their own separate interpretation of reality. So, the three (all female, of course) protagonists of Title Unrelated travel to a parallel Utopian dimension: nonviolent, eco-friendly, mystical, vaguely non-Europeans who enforce gender-neutral language, dress and behavior. Never mind the improbability of such a world, given that human tribes across time and space have enforced gender roles through every single period of their growth and development. The most androgynous society in history is in fact our oh-so-decadent post-industrial hellscape. Likewise, never mind the question of how exactly an authoritarian enforcement of androgyny would be less oppressive than calmly acknowledging biological fact. I guess steamrolling the entire planet to suit San Francisco makes you an enlightened egalitarian. Of course, their perfect world is threatened by a (presumably straight) white male villain. No need to question it. We knew it was coming.

Then there are the other examples I've mentioned here: Mare Internum with its reinforcement of social justice warrior pecking order (despite its own characters' contradictory ethical comportment); No End with its inexplicably homosexualizing zombie apocalypse; Eth's Skin with its hilariously hamfisted interjection of lectures on personal pronouns, etc. Not to mention formerly more creative comics like Questionable Content or Something Positive or El Goonish Shive scrambling to re-cast decades' worth of characters as homosexuals or transvestites to keep up with current fads. The less said about Sinfest the better.

Each new case serves only to reiterate its own irrelevance. The characters in question tend to lack context, conflict or any other cause for the audience to become invested in them. They are simply molded onto the page as de novo emblems of self-righteousness: lo, here be a non-white, non-male, non-heterosexual, sainthood presumed. Worship shklim. All are presumed to have been wronged by the world in some indeterminate fashion (even when said world consists entirely of others like themselves.) All are presumed to possess wisdom and moral authority far beyond the ken of mere mortals "breeders" - and luckily they're here to tell us just how evil we are for being born the wrong skin color / sex / sexuality. Pray the straight white male away, one panel at a time. Why? Just because. Beyond that, such characters lack any particular role to play in the story. They certainly cannot enter into any conflict with each other since this would mar the beatitude of at least one of them. Those added later on will predictably have no internal drives or goals or interests, no opinions on politics or religion or the course of civilized life (or at least none open to discussion, but only delivered as sermons) no plans to execute or chances for failure. All the narrative depth of Ayn Rand characters without the redeeming autonomy.

Interestingly, these grimly comical extrudates of identity politics work very hard at alienating their audience, by defining characters not by what they do or experience, but by what they *are* in some exclusive, intrinsic sense, like class/race combos in role-playing games. With no campaign to follow. They compensate by churning out endless reiterations of the same two-dimensional stock figures. Today's character's a level 12 Feminist Paladin Pakistani. Check back Thursday to see the half-Cherokee Bard! And don't forget to cast your votes for next week's spotlight: could it be a semi-bisexual Ukrainian Rogue or maybe a quarter-bipolar Korean Cleric? Only public opinion can tell! (Because we sure as hell can't grow an internal compass these days.) You too, dear reader, can be a flavor of the month. And if you're not one of those things, don't worry, you'll be given plenty of chances to roll the dice and mentally pigeonhole yourself as a speshul snowflake with every new gratuitous flavor of sooty downtrodden urchin. Please, sir... we want some more tribalism.

The denouement of The Island of Doctor Moreau had the scientifically uplifted beasts revert back to their innate sub-sentient, bloodthirsty forms. Its narrator escapes with a lingering post-traumatic impression: "I could not persuade myself that the men and women I met were not also other Beast People, animals half wrought into the outward image of human souls, and that they would presently begin to revert --"
And now? We've banished the ghost of Jack Chick only to summon up the spectre of Tatsuya Ishida. We've replaced churches with feminist rallies, the sermon on the mount with vaginal monologues, and still nowhere is the voice of the individual to be heard. The wolfe becomes the wer becomes the wolfe. Bestial nature re-asserts itself over each new ersatz social advancement, turning it into more of the same.

In 2001 the eponymous Nowhere Girl still retained the intellectual integrity to ask herself whether wanting to be around other people who are "like her" was shallow. In 1970 the students at Kent State University were murdered for protesting mass murder. What do the campus activists of today believe entitles them to attack their fellows? "Manspreading" or erotic cakes or heavy breathing? The mere existence of genitals? Of genitals of the wrong shape? Devo didn't make twenty years' worth of songs in retribution against the Ohio National Guard. They touched on the generalized underlying human desire to follow the leader, to bash the outsider, to regress into warring ape tribes at every opportunity. And, half a century later, it's so amusing to see the term "Jocko Homo" has taken on a whole new meaning.

"I see faces, keen and bright; others dull and dangerous; others, unsteady, insincere, -- none that have the calm authority of a reasonable soul. I feel as though the animal was surging up through them"
- H. G. Wells

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Why did 18th-century teleologists never see the punchline coming? They had no sense of Hume(r)

Friday, April 5, 2019

Anomaly: Warzone Earth

I'm always perplexed by game developers who don't seem to realize what they're developing, who miss the best points of their own products. Why, pray tell, did Majesty 2 build up such a charming "fantasy kingdom simulator" only to sink all its content development efforts into a linear, scripted campaign and restrictive scenarios instead of more freeform maps - instead of letting players simulate their own fantasy kingdoms? Why did No Man's Sky go to the trouble of laying the groundwork for dreamy, self-directed space exploration only to then build gameplay around idiotic arcade-style mole-whacking devoid of planning? Why did Spellforce 3's campaign mode undermine both its RPG side by forcing the player to break up his carefully-orchestrated 4-man band, and its RTS side by excluding the player's army from the grand finale? Why can't any of these jokers ever stay on message?

Anomaly: Warzone Earth must have come before 11bit really hit its stride. Its over-done voiceovers set my teeth on edge with their 1980s action flick writing and "acting." At least its interface is clean and direct and nearly completely mouse-driven. It over-invested in graphics and under-invested in content then tries to bleed customers even more for DLC packs amounting to what should have been the original release, an unfortunately common trend this past decade. It did, however, receive some well-deserved praise for providing a fresh playstyle.

Real-time "strategy" games negate their potential for strategy by forcing micromanagement, rewarding players for shuffling individual units back and forth to keep them from getting focus-fired, or cycling through two dozen identical spellcasters to get them all casting the same spell in ten seconds. "Tower Defense" game modes grew partly out of that frustration, letting the player strategize resource investment into defensive towers which automatically shoot down incrementally harder waves of enemies. Anomaly reversed the central gimmick by giving you a convoy to guide through a limited choice of routes among enemy towers. Not that anyone who's played FPS / RTS / MMOs is a stranger to convoy escorts, but hey, credit where it's due, 11bit managed to distill the basic concept to its most enjoyable. Your own character runs around on foot collecting and distributing buffs to your row of advancing tanks. You can upgrade those tanks as you blow up sedentary baddies for bounties. Good, clean fun.

And then one campaign mission hits you with a tower type which resurrects other enemies, charging up this ability by leeching power from you whenever you're in line of sight, and from the aforementioned buffs you need to drop to keep your units alive. Oh, it's not unbeatable, sure. You might dodge around cover, hide or delay your buffs to deny it its leeching, drop some air strikes on it, front-load your armor column to nuke your target down quickly (as it does no damage in itself) whatever. The problem's that it saps my willingness to beat the game. Because in fact while your column's in range of one of those towers, you are no longer playing. You can do almost nothing. Given your view tracks and snaps back automatically to your commander, you can barely even see what's happening while you hide.

Compounding this faux pas, there were plenty of better ways to spice up gameplay. Status effects are absent to that point (even basic DoT) and tank upgrades are completely linear, lacking choice. Maps offered few routing alternatives. Options and variations diverse and sundry should have been addressed before implementing a feature which runs so directly counter to the basic formula of (tanks+commander)/towers.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The Comic Book of Revelations

"Time and space never ending
Disturbing thoughts, questions pending
Limitation of human understanding"

Metallica - Through the Never

Been digging around for new webcomics recently, still holding out hope for the medium despite its gradual creative decline over the last two decades. Thus I hit upon the Russian comic Gifts of Wandering Ice, ostensibly set in a post-apocalyptic glacial world where dinosaurs jump out of thawing icebergs. Hints of psychic powers and prophetic dreams abound. Interesting enough crackpot notion on its surface. Unfortunately, it quickly resolves to a transparent vehicle for FEMale chauvINIST posturing. Its female characters are all hyper-competent embodiments of wisdom and courage; the spineless males spend all of their time either apologizing to women for doing everything wrong or being lectured by women on just how they're doing everything wrong. Two hundred pages' worth of exposition later, I've yet to see the unusual setting being put to any more use than one scene after another of boys and men soulfully declaring obeisance to their female social betters. Though, amazingly enough its matriarchal protagonists seem to be heterosexual - a rare affliction among any fictional figures other than villains, these days. As laughable a mess as it is, it did remind me that its setting trails a strange recent trend of post-apocalyptic fantasy comics, usually of a better stripe.

Derelict follows a nautical theme in a world haunted by mind-eating mists spewing light-allergic lizardfolk. Short on chatter and explanations, it nonetheless does a great job of showing its protagonist's scrabble for basic necessities, drifting through an inimical environment. All while building up plenty of mystery around the alien creatures and their Lovecraftian cult. If it ever comes out of "hiatus" it'll make a fine read.

Soul to Call is instead set in a cityscape infested with (again) a mind-devouring mist and littered with demons hungry for human flesh. Or souls. Or soul-flesh, it's not quite clear. Blood rituals, suicidal cults, paramilitary demon-hunter enclaves, magical amulets and assault rifles. Good stuff.

Stand Still, Stay Silent (probably the best of these) follows a group of Scandinavian adventurers in a reality depopulated by a demonic/fungoid infection mutating all mammals into deformed pus-sack monstrosities. The pre-Christian gods have (for no particular reason) returned, and lend their magic from behind the scenes to humanity's last-ditch survival efforts. Beautifully drawn, quite the tearjerker when it wants to be yet balancing this with suspense and humor, SSSS is just everything an adventure story needs in scope, detail, pacing and character interactions.

As I've noted before, post-apocalyptic settings have made quite a comeback after their post- Cold War slump, over the last decade since the 2008 economic crisis. On one hand, I'm amused at this notion that if we just manage to wipe out 99.99% of humanity, the rest of us will spontaneously develop Auspex and Evocation magics. On the other hand, while I'd love to see all three of these examples continue (and even Wandering Ice, were it to miraculously ditch its primitive gynocentric conceit) I have to wonder at whatever happened to good old-fashioned science fiction post-apocalypses. The Road, along with its excellent film adaptation and similar movies centered on a small group of survivors in realistic scenarios, like The Rover or How I live Now or Z for Zachariah make for satisfying watching, but they're very limited in their focus on paranoia, isolation by social desolation and small group dynamics. On the more fanciful side of things we did at least get a rehashed Mad Max wonder of cinematography, but aside from that? Zombie outbreaks still dominate the field from big-budget movies to single-artist webcomics, though the subject tends to careen between science fiction, science fantasy and straight-up fantasy.

What about a wider scope? Among computer games, Frostpunk stands out for retaining thematic coherence unlike say the Fallout games which have tended toward kitchen sink assemblies of cults, mutants, high and low tech. I would have expected some similar endeavors from webcomics. After all, societal collapse by itself can make for lavish visuals, especially with some single pervasive, game-changing science fictional element thrown in. It would be a bit annoying if instead comics like Derelict, Soul to Call or Stand Still, Stay Silent prove avant-garde heralds of a new fad and in another five years we'll be inundated with movies and TV shows about demon hunting after the fall. We should remember that post-apocalyptic fiction, especially in the Cold War interpretation which lent it its greatest appeal, concerned humanity's propensity for self-destruction with no outside help, demonic or otherwise, by greedily degrading the gifts of science.