Sunday, July 28, 2019

"Shit, Piss, Fuck, Cunt, Cocksucker, Motherfucker and Tits"

One recent visit to an old MMO treated me to the spectacle of some confused kid complaining that a game master had forced a name change on him. Apparently his character's original name "winniedapoop" was deemed unacceptable on grounds of... something? I guess? Granted, I've run afoul of the same trigger-happy decorum police in the past, when I named throw-away alts things like "youreallmorons" or "youreallretards" or "youreallcretins" or "youreallidiots" or, well, you get the gist. At least I was being directly insulting. But seriously, are we to the point where even some idiot brat giggling at being able to say "poop" on the internet warrants official sanctions from the self-appointed governing body of his social milieu? Is not even the mildest profanity sacred anymore? Is the League of Legends character "Fiddlesticks" next on the chopping block, for fear such crass invective might give some degenerate snowflake the vapors? Eat shit and die, you retarded cunts.

I've purposely avoided naming the MMO in question because it doesn't particularly matter. Could be any game, any forum, any social network. It's been half a century since George Carlin riffed on the "seven words you can't say" and for a while we seemed to be making progress in grinding down such towering puritanical taboos. Yet somehow an entire generation has forgotten the importance of being able to say "poop" at the same time as you should be free not to associate with poop-sayers. Nobody's making you join the little moron's guild. Let his name serve as a warning for that purpose.

It would be one thing to face a generation of knowing inquisitors. I'm more worried at finding further evidence that our society as a whole has rapidly lost its sense of proportion, context or relevance, not to mention humor. It's not merely that you can't take a joke; you've lost the ability to even discern the deliberate transgression and reversal of social expectations which defines humor. In the same online game, I ran across a player adventuring in the same zone and proposed we team up. He declined for some perfectly valid, mundane reason like logging out. I answered, in classic comedic overstatement:

"In that case you're evil and I hate you forever now"

... and the idiot took it seriously! He was offended, by a line I could not have rendered more farcical even by belting it through a helium balloon while wearing full clown make-up. In what hellish vat of pablum are all these stunted, dulled and blunted ersatz human brains being incubated? Such depths of parochialism belong in the Podunks of centuries past, yet somehow in the 21st century, on the internet no less, with the sum total of human culture at one's fingertips, you devolved apes exhibit less wit and savvy than dirt-farming peasants in the days before newsprint. "Bawdy, naughty, saucy, raunchy, rude, crude, lewd, lascivious, profane, obscene" such is the nature of communication at times, by necessity. To truncate the ideas which can be communicated is to truncate your own intellectual growth. To grow, you need the freedom to hear stupid things, if only so you yourself can call them stupid. Discernment is a function of individual thought, not of the censorship board.

You cannot cloister your mind inside a prophylactic, no matter how much I wish you spineless, brainless, hapless little twerps had stayed there instead of gestating into the blight upon sentience which you've proven yourselves.

addendum, 2019/07/29:


Wednesday, July 24, 2019

There's too much light with the shades pulled against the night, brightness fades but the succession of wakefulness states bluntly days end denigrating  intent. Every sound too loud, every crackle of the processor infringing on silence but needful to drown out the thunderous synaptic recursion heard dearth recourse dividing life's seconds to the remainder hearse.

It hurts. Arms too heavy to type, light too heavy weighing on eyes, sound falling tectonically on exhausted eardrums, it hurts, sense of smell lost thank goodness won't weigh the miasma of trash not taken out in weeks, dishes heaved molding over in the sink drink exhaustion from the jug of water been refilling how many times from the sink, unwashed teeth hurt unwashed scalp hurts the process does not bear repeating think fooling glint of hint of undeserved hop to it hurts to swallow, don't have the energy, hurts to hear, failure dear how are you clear-headed never bought a pistol to withhold dolt after all clear fear pulse dragging like sand through veins hurts beats too hard hurts to counts seconds to morning hurts to read others' brilliance to write own worthlessness hurts inhaling exhausting exhalation too warm, should have cooled before you drooled out this latest decade's tirade of failure hurts to roll over to curl to stretch out every muscle resists rancor anchored to every failure dragging limbs dreams hurt through the chase hurt more to end to return slow burning inexistence wasting oxygen space attention please being a disease displeasing unfeasible regenerations past you won't last long enough to drag gradually no autocorrect for human mistakes question no scale of failure relayed delayed until it's too laid out of your mind hurts to link think sink sink sink sink sink you wrote about sinking once upon a time hope without a rhyme no courage no rage no getting back up why does the wall vibrate won't it hold still won't the light avoid the sill won't the will break this nil it hurts to know hurts to think hurts to be hurts to be dragged along the seconds like gravel kill me

kill me

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Why do people complain about fart jokes? They've got no scents of humor.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

ST: TNG - Suddenly Family Redemption

In an effort to relive my early teens, I am re-watching old episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It is both better and worse than I remembered it, as was my youth most likely.

Seriesdate: 4.02

The Borgified Picard season 3-4 cliffhanger was successful enough for producers to milk it with a third installment. In a truly inspired move, they didn't just pile on more cyborgs but followed up with Picard's psychological trauma and recovery via shore leave Earthside at his brother's vineyard. The elder Picard luvs him sum traditional life and resents Jean-Luc for exploring strange new whatevers. Cue the somewhat trite sibling rivalry subplot plus Jean-Luc's crisis of confidence. Turns out getting mindraped by a machine collective doesn't get cured by a TV-style episodic reset.

"They took everything I was. They used me to kill and to destroy and I couldn't stop them."

Aside from Stewart's customarily excellent performance, this whole thing was pretty much carried by the supporting cast. The plot almost nonexistent, almost a recap, the dialogues weighing on the overwrought side, left a lot of slack to be picked up by the actors. Otherwise the lack of stars or trekking could easily have rendered this as irrelevant as a holodeck episode. And pick it up they did. Picard's brother and his wife avoid the temptation of acting like rednecks, and Worf's parents manage not to exaggerate their comic relief roles in the B-plot. Only the C-plot about Wesley's message from his father drags a bit. Freakin' Wesley...

Heartrending string score aside, noteworthy for establishing not only the persistence of the Borg crisis but, through Guinan's dialogue with Worf's parents, hinting at the ongoing nature of Worf's Klingon entanglements.


Seriesdate: 4.04
Suddenly Human

The enterprise rescues a blindingly blond boy from a ship which was supposed to contain only "Talarians" - which, in case you're wondering, are a warrior race obsessed with family honor, endowed with forehead ridges and sporting vaguely tribal armor, but which are, and I cannot stress this enough:

- totally not Klingons!

Got that? This is an entirely new alien race intellectual property with its own completely unique personality. Accept no substitutions! So in addition to spending fifteen minutes establishing details which could've been summed up as "yes, they're just like Klingons" we find out the human boy was adopted by the warlike Talarians when they invaded his parents' space station... which is of course totally NOT Worf's origin story with the polarities reversed! Not at all. This one's blond. Totally unique character here, no similarities whatsoever. Move on!

Now, this whole ludicrous setup might've been salvaged if the writers had the balls to just own it, and play off Worf's similar experiences to allow the two warrior culture changelings to bond and compare notes. Instead, the kid's handed off to... Picard, to try to convince him of his humanity and rescue him away from the aliens. All while awkwardly interjecting public service announcements about Stockholm syndrome and abusive relationships.

Oy vey.
And ok, the ending's actually pretty decent, bringing the youth's personal choice to the forefront, but it can't compensate for 40/45 minutes of redundancy, loose ends, confusion, tedium and eye-rolling. Throughout the series, writers kept trying to shoehorn Picard into a paternal role, presumably to allow the audience to both relate and condescend to him as a stereotypical sitcom bumbling dad. The original setup had him stepping into the Crusher family in loco parentis. By the start of season 4, Wil Wheaton's departure would already have been in the works and various other relationships of Picard with a teenage son were being beta-tested... with consistently corny, non-sequitur results.


Seriesdates: 4.26-5.01


I'll admit this episode made little impression on me when I was ten, but through older eyes its more complex storytelling qualifies it as one of the best-orchestrated of the show's run. TNG started with the mindset of typical TV serial fare, which is to say episodic goofiness with little to no progression. The first few seasons were iterated largely on that note. Hints of continuity started cropping up in season 3 though, and season 4 began pulling together actual storylines. Trying (and largely succeeding) to duplicate their season 3-4 Borg cliffhanger, the crew set up another effects-rich two-parter between seasons 4-5, this time focusing on the Klingons as seen through the eyes of Worf and his brother, Kurn. Yes, the guy from Sins of the Father which itself featured a continuity link to the first season.

To tie this all up in the audience's consciousness, the first half rattles off information like an overclocked android.
By minute 2:35 they'd breathlessly exposited the Klingon political situation and set up this episode's overt antagonists.
20 minutes in, the new character roster already swells to rival the number of TNG's core cast.
By minute 35 the plot had already twisted four or five times over.
The cliffhanger ending slaps Denise Crosby's (Tasha Yar's) face on the middle of a civil war, and the second, more action-packed half follows through with that as a rather convoluted and unexpected (but welcome) outburst of continuity in its own right. Tasha's post-mortem effect on the show's a topic for another day, but the Klingon A-plot itself is worth noting for its various shades of intrigue.

This, children, is called "seduction"... by some definitions. By others, it may be termed phrenology. I don't know. I'm not an expert. (Seriously, was Stewart struggling not to laugh in or out of character?)

The civil war story arc was compounded by Worf borderline selling his loyalty in return for reinstatement of his family name, a development foreshadowed from the start of the season in Family. In itself this could've made for a satisfactory two-part story. It could've just as easily been written as a pitched battle between Klingon forces. Tossing Romulan gun-runners into the mix would've polled well in the years following the Iran-Contra affair, when proxy wars were on everyone's mind. More importantly, it expanded upon TNG's more mature political setting as opposed to the original series' simplistic Buck Rogers routine. As does Picard lecturing Worf on Federation non-interference:

"You are using your position as a Starfleet officer to effect political change in your planet. There could not be a worse compromise of our fundamental principles. [...] We walk the same tightrope between two worlds, you and I. We must try our very best to keep those worlds separate... or we shall certainly fall."


As arguably the most plot-driven genre, Science Fiction has less use for family dynamics. When handled mercilessly and integrated into the larger plot they can be quite memorable (e.g. Dune) but much more of the best SF (Red Mars, The Dispossessed, etc.) has instead purposely invoked the dissolution of such innate simian tribal loyalties, and the social effects thus incurred. As an '80s-'90s TV show, TNG was not positioned to make such leaps, so its characters' traditionalist family values more often than not had a negative impact on plot quality. They were especially heinous when presented as standalone plots in themselves, as in Suddenly Human with its almost aggressive redundancy and irrelevance to the rest of the show.

Relatives could, however, be useful in facilitating meta-commentary on other plots' progress, as in Family. They also served as anchors for sparse continuity from year to year. When Tony Todd a.k.a. Kurn stepped onto the scene, you knew you'd be in for some roaring Klingon drama. The brothers' relationship also allowed TNG's creators to play with the various forms of authority in Klingon society, as Guinan somewhat obtusely points out to Worf before he leaves the Enterprise. In scenes regarding family honor, Worf the elder brother pulls rank on Kurn. In ship combat he defers to Kurn, who outranks him, an admirably smooth shift with none of the time-wasting flamboyance of Data's scenes fighting anti-android prejudice while temporarily commanding a ship blockading the Romulans.

So long as they are not belabored, the presumptions of family ties can also make for quick, incisive characterization and pathos, as exemplified by Sela's tale of betraying her mother Tasha... but, once again, a topic for another day.

Friday, July 19, 2019

I always wonder about the hits I register from people doing porn keyword searches. Not that there's anything weird in that itself... but some of them seem to register multiple hits. What do they think they're going to find? Nope, sorry, haven't grown tits in the last five seconds... still just some howling loser ranting about video games and science fiction... a-yawp...

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

's'at ire?

I did eventually get around to watching Moore's Fahrenheit 11/9. He makes at least one interesting point, that Trump's attempts to pass off divisive, abusive rhetoric or declarations of totalitarian power as humor should be taken more seriously, not at face value but in their social impact. After all, jokingly ribbing the public about the slide into dictatorship can serve to inculcate dictatorial precepts into the public consciousness in a seemingly innocuous fashion. It's turning up the heat on the proverbial frog's Jacuzzi. Even if not taken literally, it eases the public at large into the idea of the inferiority of such and such group, their evil nature and how deserving those people are of suffering.

A valid point. Good show, sir.

It would've been nice if the obediently line-toeing feminist Mr. Moore would at that point have mentioned that the feminist Twitter hashtag #KillAllMen has been going strong over half a decade now.
Teeheehee! Just kidding boys!

Saturday, July 13, 2019

ATM Numbers Is Data for PIN Machines

To my great shame I've been spending a lot of time in Warframe lately. Shame, quoth the wolf, because fundamentally it ranks as precisely the sort of idiot-friendly "action" game against which I constantly rant here in my den. In keeping with its lowest-common-denominator mindset, its literary merits tend toward the none, as happens when you let art majors at the keyboard. Combined with struggling to secure its core demographic of degenerate teen troglodytes with no attention span, this produces a lot of cackling carbon copy cartoon villains, long strings of small words and re-redundancy to ensure the worthless little wastes of oxygen you seek to lure to your cash shop actually get what you're saying. You get what I'm saying?

So no-one can act surprised at catching radio transmissions warning of "subterranean" things "below ground" or hearing a villain threaten to perform a "live dissection" on the hero. I'm guessing he means it would be... televised? Or were you fishing for the term vivisection but mislaid thine trusty thesaurus?

And now, for something completely different.

"Pie Iesu Domine
Dona eis requiem"

Part of Monty Python's brilliance lay in the verisimilitude of each scene. Exposition and decor often provided as serious a contrast as possible to the anticipated humor, like a taut bowstring, punchlines nocked. Mastery of a craft is neither strained nor accidental, but deliberate and parsimonious. That village scene might have looked perfectly at home in any drama or documentary reenactment - that is, until the *thunk* connects.

And now, for something completely different.

A PhD is a permit to peddle pedantry, but every once in a while academia seems to suffer a crisis of over-production in that department. One fad of the past decade holds the word "data" must never be used in the singular, as it is in fact the plural of the singular datum. So it's always "the data show" and not "the data shows" under penalty of severe finger-wagging. Correct, yet irrelevant. When in Satan's holy name does anyone speak of dealing with a singular datum? With the datum at hand? With the datum so far? With the datum we've been able to gather? Collecting datum? Lt. Commander Datum? It's understood that one always analyzes a collection of data, a cluster of data, a pattern of data, a group of data, a pack of data, a herd of data, a pod of data, a swarm of data, a murder of data, like in that one episode where they almost took his brain apart, man that was awesome...

There are plenty of times when the misuse of language will blatantly signal ignorance or muddled thinking. Placing your subterrane below ground is merely redundant, not clearer or more expressive, expansive or emotive. But the singular data better expresses the reality of clustering information, succinctly and without fuss. It is apt, neither gratuitous nor forced for the sake of group cohesion. You're missing the punchline. The rules make good exposition and decor but they're not the point of this whole show. By vandalizing a more apt expression you're merely advertising your deficiency in mastering language in all its literally figurative glory. And please, if you must cling so tightly to your stone tablets, at least learn their usage from the monks in that video.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Pathfinder: Kingmaker

"Ostrich and egret and peacock had very small dreams
Thinking of them just reminds me of calendar scenes"

Rasputina - How We Quit the Forest

Some spoilers follow, though I tried to hold back. Long story short: game's way more of a chore and less of an epic than it should've been. And, seriously, if you can't tell from Irovetti's descriptions that you'll wind up fighting him at some point, you need to watch more children's cartoons.

A long time ago I preordered Pathfinder: Kingmaker, largely on the name guarantee of Chris Avellone's involvement. Then it launched, to such a chorus of complaints about bugs and incompleteness that, with a dramatic sigh, I postponed my first playthrough until six months after release. I wanted to like this game. With Obsidian Entertainment now dead and buried under Microsoft's impious pall, many of us look to Bioware, InXile and newer developers like Owlcat or DoubleBear for old-school RPGs with a strategic viewpoint. Owlcat's debut with Kingmaker was supposed to be a return to sanity, ditching the idiot-friendly later editions of DnD in favor of the more complex throwback to 3.5e (and the Neverwinter Nights games) Pathfinder.

Unfortunately, while the result deserves some measure of praise, it sadistically and fruitlessly abused the genre's untapped potential, to the point where its failures can even become informative. Until playing Kingmaker, I didn't even know there was such a thing as a graphics memory leak! (Although, in fairness, this seems to have been patched during the past few months.) Some of its bugs are minor, like a summoned kitty still prowling my capital's streets months after I did away with its summoner:

... or my animal companion deciding to poke her tusks through village maps because she's starved for attention:

 ... or the many tooltips and cutscene speech bubbles which become illegible, chopped off because they don't snap to the screen's edge. Or the inability to rotate 1x2-sized buildings on town map grids. Or that the sound cuts out sometimes if you minimize. Or that a few seconds ago the whole thing locked up during a loading screen just as I was complaining about its bugs. (No, seriously, I could not make that up. Kismet.) As a software product, Kingmaker's an ode to the quality of Russian craftsmanship, and quite a few of its more heinous bugs have registered near the top of the "game-breaking" scale.

That one's a twofer. Not only was I not told what repetitive <null> event was causing me to lose point after point of my kingdom's five lives' worth of "unrest" metric, but that last one was factually wrong. And thus my game ended and had to be re-loaded from half a workday's worth of playing time earlier.

All this (and much, much more) was likely why, over half a year post-release, Kingmaker's completion rate still ranked under five percent.

Even now as I'm writing this it hangs at 7.1% (from what I understand, most RPGs can at least break into the low teens) and even that speaks a tremendous level of dedication on the part of its fanbase. And, in fairness, it does provide fans of the old DnD adaptations with much of what we'd wanted, like hard-hitting status effects and elemental damage requiring specific counters, reminiscent of the old Infinity Engine games. The system of feats and spells is impressively comprehensive, with most choices surprisingly relevant to your actual gameplay. It's even allowed yours truly nerdy wolfy to play one of the prestige classes I've always wanted: a Wizard / Druid Mystic Theurge.

Moreover, as you're not just fighting endless numbers of undead and golems like in the old NWN campaigns, I've found I can finally become the master of poisons I always wanted to be. Acid Arrows, metamagic-buffed Acid Arrows, Acidic Spray, Cloudkill, Burst of Nettles, Acid Fog and most importantly, enough disabling Stinking Clouds to funkify the kingdom of Nyctimus from Pitax to Brevoy. Half my fights end with my brazenly breathless bestie Jaethal wading into a stinking cloud to murder all my harmlessly nauseated enemies. Look, ma, no fireballs! As an unforseen bonus, my vitriolic vein turned a major quest involving fireproof trolls into a cakewalk.

There is indeed a fair bit to like here. Sound tends toward blandness, but the First World battle theme still stands out and inserting that spirited rendition of a Bulgarian folk song into your town ambience was a stroke of brilliance. The classic "rags to riches" RPG character development is handled well enough, with both low levels being a resource-deprived struggle for survival and high levels encouraging you to lavishly expend resources taking down difficult foes. Skill checks have a greater effect than in most games and I was pleased to find my theurge's encyclopaedic knowledge of all things natural or arcane being put to frequent use. Building a balanced party is integral to gameplay but not so restrictive that is pigeonholes you into a specific setup. I eschewed the designated tank in favor of running a chaotic neutral party with no filthy hu-mons (well, ok, half a filthy orc-mon) and thus wound up slapping a shield on my resident zombie girl as a second best. As a tank, Jaethal the Inquisitor's rather squishy and over-reliant on spellcasting. On the other hand, her undeath makes her a tireless tank immune to most status effects, and self-resurrecting to boot. Aaaannd that's how the other half of my fights ended, with Jaethal picking her teeth off the ground.* Turns out that's a perfectly acceptable and even borderline overpowered way to run your campaign.

Kingmaker's biggest inspiration was obviously Neverwinter Nights 2 with its base-building feature. Cleaning up, propping up and gussying up your barony and its various towns proves pleasingly intricate, and even incorporates the element of time to a degree not usually seen outside Mount&Blade or the first Dune game. Time passes whenever you're traveling or engaged in upgrading your barony, and managing your trips' logistics to get back to your capital in time to assign tasks is critical to your survival (though you can flip off (literally and figuratively) this entire half of the game from the start of your campaign.)

Here though is also where most of the poor design decisions were made. Countless HELP! posts can be found online by players who can't tell how to advance their campaign, only to find out they had to run back to the capital and pass a couple of days through the kingdom management screen. Crises can be devastating (to the point of forcing a loss condition, as shown above) and especially on a first playthrough you're really not given enough information... for instance about the blatant gimmie halfway through which halves your advisors' training times. Also, while appointing your companions to government posts makes perfect roleplaying sense (worked great in M&B as well) tying their efficacy as advisors to their core stats unduly muddles their customization. You're almost better off adventuring with custom heroes and optimizing Owlcat's roster for paper-pushing. This waxes onerous as soon as you have one of your advisor / companions die only to find out this nullifies all his progress on the current barony task if you choose to wait until returning to town to cast the expensive but mundane "raise dead" scroll.

And it's not like this is Kingmaker's only design flaw.

As I've complained in previous posts, too much balance and immersion were sacrificed (probably by the Pathfinder tabletop version itself) in order to appeal to brainless little twerps who want to act like DragonballZes.

The writing boasts some high points (like the Storyteller's... err, stories told, or the tear-jerking bard's story from Silverstep) and Jaethal whether or not actually written by Avellone, must certainly bear his influence. And, albeit handled summarily, the Octavia / Regongar pairing of Chaotic Good / Evil with a potential for neutrality was conceptually sound. Even the rambling Shaynih'a the Tulip grew on me eventually. For the most part though the writing's uninspired and simplistic or outright insultingly phoned in, from scraps of flavor text to larger quests being left up in the air (e.g. Trobold - would it kill them to call once in a while? After I sided with them over the filthy (and tasty) hu-mons?) Even the potentially memorable villainess loses much of her personality when she's inevitably relegated to the status of victim of some conveniently male deity. Oh, and she did it all for twue wuv, for an extra dose of trite.

The alignment system is a bit too easy to game, with shifts too slight to add up to meaningful trends.

Also, despite several nominally evil or chaotic companions, the canonical Kingmaker run is obviously meant to be Neutral Good edging into Lawful. That infuriatingly cutesy little pissant Linzi serves as narrator. All your enemies are Evil, Chaotic or both, with only one companion quest sending you up against a group of paladins... and even that was probably meant to be solved peacefully. Not that I'd know. I microaggressed them until they attacked and butchered the lot.

Other powerful and potentially impressive, important enemies are simply thrown at you with little or no explanation or context, like the dragon and other monsters you randomly find lurking in caves, or Irovetti's palace staff.

Too many scripted encounters throw you into fights without preparation - in some cases from over a screen away - and the inability to examine friendly and neutral targets also negates scouting.

Itemization is terrible. No scythes for Jaethal and her illustration be damned, no handaxes above a +1 for my custom halfling ranger companion, no bastard swords through all the middle game despite one or two of your companions canonically using them. Instead, you'll see mountains of the same trash loot thanks to the lack of variety in humanoid enemies.

And there's the biggest problem. Kingmaker suffers from a severe dearth of content to fill its intended epic length, and tries to compensate via repetition. Which is not to say it's barren. It offers more than enough material to compare reasonably with its competitors. Still, random encounter maps get re-used constantly, most environments seem a bit sparse and by-the-numbers (lots of boxes, tiles and paintbrushed brush) and for some reason, Owlcat wanted to present the image of a much larger game but wound up overextending what could have been perfectly enjoyable at half length. Even your villages, once you walk into them, turn out to be all the same cut and pasted environment, ten times re-pasted. Thus much of your time will be spent in shameful, blatant timesinks. Lengthy monologues and unskippable cutscenes before fights you'll need to reload ten times over, no map notes but plenty of monsters that will require you to return to a specific zone at later levels, and other tired old tricks crop up constantly. As in the Baldur's Gate games your main character's death spells an instant Game Over (and it's just as bad an idea here) and entirely too many fights start by forcing you into a tactically unsound position you'd never adopt willingly and scripting all the enemy's archers to focus you personally. Forcing you to reload fights you could defeat handily if allowed even minimal preparations counts as "replay value" ... right? Some apparent roleplaying or strategic choices are instead linear, with insufficient hints that one is a prerequisite to the other, crucial to advancing the plot - see Irovetti vs. Nyrissa. If you focused on the wrong one, have fun reloading a save from three hours earlier to get the sequence of events right. Most aggravating are the number of times you're sent looking for needles in haystacks. One quest hilariously orders you to find something "deep in the Narlmarches" - which marches comprise three entire swamp regions with decreased movement speed amounting to over a quarter of the campaign.
"Uh, excuse you! As you apparently didn't notice, we're trying to traverse the Quagmire of Slogdonia."

And ok, some gradual improvements have been made over the past year, especially where bugs are concerned, and barony management has been spruced up a bit. Crisis points allow for more flexibility, custom characters can at last fill advisor roles, etc. But the observation remains: this is not a game; it's a player-funded fundraising campaign for Kingmaker 2, and I already paid several times over by buying Pillars of Eternity and all the other titles whose coattails the ex-Nival OwlCopyCat brigade is riding. Releasing in such an unfinished state, with so many corners cut and so little attention paid to immersion or to intelligent storytelling, was inexcusable.

* Jaethal as a weeble-tank reminds me of abusing poor Jaheira in the same way during the Baldur's Gate campaigns and... heyyy, waitaminute... why are they both divine-spellcasting elf warriors whose name starts with a "J" ...?

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Why do comedians complain about being underpaid? They've got no cents of humor.

Monday, July 8, 2019

The Adventures of Dr. McNinja

"I just surfed a robo Dracula from the moon, so yalls can just take it!"

- Dr. McNinja, and yes, he did! (He Is A Ninja!)

The ballooning range of internet service during the '90s tech boom years greatly loosened publishers' and broadcasters' stranglehold on human creativity. Storage and bandwidth costs notwithstanding, the relatively dirt cheap distribution of online content (like that which you'se a-gawkin' ats right 'ere, gentle reader) and potential for unlimited popularity lured many a would-be creator to post stories, drawings and whatever in hopes of [the] adulation and esteem [which would be mine by rights if you lazy asses would do your job and make me rich and famous already!] The results, as can still be seen today, consisted mostly of self-indulgent fan fictions by semi-literate egomaniacs, artwork by scribblers capable of producing neither art nor work, and waayyyy more furry porn than any observer could've rationally predicted.

Most of the webcomics dating from the '90s and early 2000s have vanished into the festering bowels of teh interwebz, where most of them belonged. Nostalgia aside, I can't say human culture lost much by the endless reams of incomprehensible pencil sketches of characters of indeterminate species tossing out cribbed non-sequiturs. Most took the internet's creative freedom to mean they didn't need to make sense, only to make noise. It's all about being outrageous and radical to the max... in that utterly predictable fashion so characteristic of college students.

That's how The Adventures of Dr. McNinja started. The concept itself is basically a throwaway one-liner you'd chuckle about with your friends on the street and forget by the time you got home: so, like, there's this Irish-American ninja, and he's also a doctor - hilarious, amirite? In itself, this fulfilled the "anything goes" promise of both comic books and the web, of a medium which is both malleable enough to support inchoate ramblings and doesn't take itself so seriously as to hold back from rambling. Whatever crackpot notions you have, toss 'em out there.

Unfortunately, to be more than yesterday's joke also requires developing those initial smatterings of intrigue. Freedom is nothing without the ability to make something of it. Unfortunatelier, there's nowhere to take a notion like Dr. McNinja... in itself. The character himself is the punchline. So early chapters simply pile on other absurdism about dinosaurs or facial hair or, of course, more and more ninjas. Much of it, like the ninjas vs. pirates rivalry, was pathetically lifted from endlessly reiterated online subculture. I tried trudging through it last decade, shrugged and gave up at about the fifteenth desperate, nonsensical, misguided stab at creativity.

But, eventually, it got good. Like Sluggy Freelance, McNinja eventually demonstrated the necessary skill to cobble its underlying derivative nonsense into something resembling plot and character development. More interesting, while retaining quite of bit of randomness (even its climactic battle involves a weaponized pope-grenade) the second half of the comic increasingly turned against the forced badassery of its early days, especially where "the radical land" and its denizens are concerned. That it ran its last storyline about radicalization and the presidency in 2015-2017 may or may not have had something to do with it. Regardless, the finished comic stands as something both memorable and reflective of the post-Y2K cultural milieu while avoiding the retreat into trite, staid moralism plaguing most of its contemporaries. It made a point to repeatedly explode its old pirate conflict cliche, never descended into mating ritual drama and eschewed too sappy an ending.

Human creativity has largely proven itself incapable of dealing with the internet's overdose of creative freedom. But, if Dr. McNinja can be interpreted in any way, it's as proof that the freedom itself was not the problem, but only the desperation to make more noise than the competition, to out-radicalize each other.

Thursday, July 4, 2019


"Walking on down to the burial ground
It's a very old dance with a merry old sound"

Red Hot Chilli Peppers - Slow Cheetah

I miss keeping dungeons, so thanks to some sale or another I've been giving Dungeons 2 a chance. It's... quaint. Decidedly less creative than the classic it copycats but possibly worth buying on sale for those of us whose imp-slapping hand has been itching lately.

I also tried to finish Fallout 2 and ended up uninstalling it just as I did back in the 2000s of yore, and at about the same early point, which is to say the point where you run a mission for a ghost. No effort was put into justifying the ghost, no techno wizardry, no machines for said ghost to shell, not even a Scooby Doo rubber mask. You're just walking through a post-nuclear wasteland and there's a ghost, imbued with all the narrative logic of a third grader's first attempts at storytelling. Note that Fallout, despite its retro Cold War stylings, was still nominally a Science Fiction universe.

Of course anyone who played Fallout 2 will tell you that's just the tip of the iceberg. Where the original indulged in a few Mad Max or '90s television references, it nevertheless held together its post-apocalyptic setting. The sequel, on the other hand, buried its core appeal in endless nonsensical pop culture asides, characters with the personality of online gamers and throwaway gags. It reeked of a rushed, uninspired attempt at cashing in on a profitable intellectual property. So it's interesting that the same routine bothers me much less in Dungeons 2.

After all, its highly unreliable narrator doesn't seem to have heard of a fourth wall and half the commentary during your missions consists of references to obscure late-2000s internet memes or personae. And, while it was cute when Philip K. Dick was doing it fifty years ago, "going meta" has long since passed into fanfiction kitsch. On the other hand, Dungeons 2 never really pretends to be anything more than kitschy fanfiction of Dungeon Keeper. It more sucessfully manages it audience's expectations than did Fallout 2. Also, while the commentary and creature names routinely shatter the fourth wall, they don't impinge on the main action of the game, which is still that of goblins and demons killing all hu-mons. You can safely ignore the narrator's blathering about the banking industry and simply send your orcs to axe down a unicorn. Substance may still be found beneath the derision.

There is a difference between telling a joke and being a joke. While old-school comedians could sometimes trip into this pitfall, it's become a particular failing of new media in teh internets age. Creators of the past three decades have increasingly drawn upon the frame of reference of online forums and social media, which heavily encourage one and all to play a socially acceptable brand of fool for each particular microenvironment, to engage in a sort of "folie en famille" considered all the more endearing for its predictability. We are all each others' joke in an online echo chamber.

Yet when selling a product, even the most niche-oriented, you are invariably attempting to reach people who are not already in on the joke, and over-playing the ironic detachment can rapidly cause your audience to question why they're listening to you demonstrate how hard you don't give a shit. It's an issue I've repeatedly addressed here both for webcomics like The Order of the Stick and for RPGs like Wasteland 2 or Divinity: Original Sin. Tossing in a mission called "Occupy Wall Street" could easily have made Dungeons 2 as incongruous as the ghost in a post-nuclear desert. But as you sit back and listen to the narrator bullshit his way through paragraph after paragraph of in-universe justification, you feel less and less cheated out your fantasy narrative, less like a joke is being played on you as a customer, and more like you're in on a joke being told by the entertainers you've hired. It comes down to the difference between Jan Jansen and Grobnar Gnomehands: even a fool must own his folly.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

You tell me [I'm] the institution

"You say you got a real solution
Well, you know,
We'd all love to see the plan"

The Beatles - Revolution

"Give me the child for the first seven years and I will give you the man."

Ignatius of Loyola


"We're gonna teach them
(Wrong from right)
We're gonna help them
(See the light)"

Mel Brooks, and do I really have to tell you what movie it's from?


"Now where does this kind of stupidity come from? Well it comes actually from a very hopeful place. Because it basically argues that we're all born undamaged, we're all born with empty minds, we're all born with equal potentiality [...] So this kind of idiocy actually comes from a hopeful position, which is: hey we're all born the same and if we can only eradicate some environmental force then we'll all get along. But the fact that it's hopeful and nice doesn't mean that it's true."

Gad Saad, on social constructionism in a speech in 2017

I first learned there was such a formal academic notion as social constructionism a decade ago (though the disease had been incubating in academia for some time (since about the time of The Beatles)) in an introductory sociology course. I was all for it at first. We were long overdue, by my estimate, to appreciate the due weight of mammalian learning and enculturation in psychosocial development. Yet, driven by their popular success, its proponents galloped past context and scope into declaring they'd uncovered The Ultimate Truth, a dogmatic refusal to appreciate or even acknowledge any influences besides their absolutist relativism. This new holy scripture was almost entirely proselytized from without any scientific inquiry, through Humanities departments and feminist cabals. At its root, it's a postmodernist flatfooted denial of objective physical reality: everything we do is made up and we have no intrinsic natures. We're blank slates.

Politically, it dovetailed neatly with feminist fundamentalism's need to establish some all-pervasive boogeyman against which to wage war - "The Patriarchy" or some even more ill-defined "institutionalized" force of evil. Because of course if we're all born as blank slates but the world is so observably evil then the evil is being deliberately inserted into us. It follows there must be some overwhelming evil influence actively, constantly and omnipresently scribing evil onto such blank slates as you and I, dear impressionable reader. So, just as Christian fundamentalists exhort their congregations to resist the lure of Lucifer lurking behind every temptation, feminist fundamentalists fabricated a conveniently invisible, intangible, indefatigable evil influence which could be ascribed (when convenient) to anything they wish to attack. So now when men fail at acting like extensions of women's interests, it's not because they're coping with inherently different pressures, needs and desires, victims of human nature just like their female counterparts, but because they're willfully perpetuating an all-pervasive cacodemonia. This absolutist interpretation of social constructionism neatly categorizes any target of opportunity as an enemy combatant, and therefore deserving of abuse. All's fair in love and war, right?

To be sure, other political lobbies have adopted the idea. Feminists merely carry the most clout as usual due to drawing on the largest potential cohort as adherents. Retards declare there's no such thing as intuhlijens. You'll also be informed, rather indignantly, that there are no races among humanity. As an absolute statement, yes, true, there are no precise delineations of races, merely gradations... but such platitudes utterly ignore the obvious anatomic, metabolic, immunological and other differences which cluster so blatantly around various historic/geographic regions. More amusingly, the various LGBTQRSTUVWXYZ "communities" have taken social constructionism even farther to declare that biological sexes are themselves social constructs and we should all be pretending to be vaguely effete hermaphrodites. I guess nobody told all those hundreds of thousands of species of gender-binary mice, lizards, beetles, birds, bees and bandicoots to stop culturally establishing their sexuality. Even the sex-flipping tropical fish so often given as examples of gender fluidity merely flip from one established sex to the other. Your guppy's not going to style its dorsal fin in bright blue spikes and start calling itself a "they".

Now, as all this hoorah can often edge into the pathetic, it's tempting to take the high road and go easy on the morons straining to disbelieve their own glands, to give them the benefit of the doubt as merely misguided do-gooders, to qualify them as hopeful and nice. Yet the interpretation of any desire, value, behavior or belief as mere mutable epiphenomena hides an implicit threat:
We can break you.
Whatever you think your desires may be, we will change those thoughts. Whatever you think you are, we will change to suit ourselves. After all, if there are no innate drives, preferences or desires, then correcting wrongthink no longer constitutes an interpersonal attack. It's just... spellchecking a set of instructions... tuning a clockwork.... weeding a memetic garden. We can beat our own preferences into you with a clear conscience.

Such solipsism reminds one of the dark side of the forces of psychological science, behaviorism and its promise of beating anyone into any shape with sufficient application of carrots and sticks. More worrisome, it's a philosophy which has always appealed to those in power, who do not wish to concern themselves with those they rule but merely to extract specific behaviors of service and obeisance. Social constructionism betrays a desire to see others not as separate entities with internal drives but as hollow parts instrumental to the constructionist's worldview. One does not need to consider the desire of malfunctioning instruments, but merely to hammer and lathe off whatever does not serve the construction's purpose. You can't hurt a construction. Hopeful? Yes, there's a hope there, for a something divorced from someones. Idealistic even. It's the sort of idealism which dictates that a big lie becomes truth by a sufficient clout of the fasces.