Thursday, June 21, 2018

Get Medieval

One of the last few remaining reasons why anyone would deign to visit LiveJournal.
Amazingly, as LiveJournal has remained online for some inexplicable reason (bought by Russians; lots of tasty old account data to exploit) GetMedieval has also survived where many webcomics of its time left nary a fossil of their existence. It dates from that brief period when webcomicking became technologically accessible but remained creative. Surprisingly entertaining stuff, given the author was obviously more interested in drawing medieval costumes than coming up with a coherent plot or original characters.

Suspiciously humanoid aliens get stranded on Earth in the hey-day of swashing and buckling, are sanctuaried by some monks and get to participate in a good old-fashioned castle siege. Main characters: standard issue sitcom incompetent awkward male being helped to adjust to his new situation by a level-headed, socially astute female. Salvaged somehow by the sheer innocence with which the somewhat predictable punchlines are delivered and the occasional snappiness of some of the less predictable ones. To this day "you could do to lower your expectations/ up yours" is one of the funniest things I've ever heard.

After the first half or so of the story with its henpecked husbands and goose-pecked space-men Get Medieval's quality does peter off a bit, getting drawn into redundant space mobster characters and tedious exposition for a relatively dull SF background plot. Still, in its clean, unassuming charm, it's remained one of the better webcomics out there even a decade after its end.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire

"Why'd you leave the keys up on the table?
Here you go create another fable
You wanted to!"

System of a Down - Chop Suey!

So, is Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire a good game? Most of my commentary centers on its nosedive in quality of writing, especially its flatfooted over-reliance on feminist male-bashing to ensure uncritical praise from its simpleminded politically correct audience. Carrie Patel and her crew of hijackers are guilty of more chauvinism in this one product's script than Archie Bunker managed in eight years' worth as an outright chauvinist parody. But aside from demeaning, insulting and demonizing men every other paragraph, how does Deadfire stack up? After all, a game is a game, not a script.

Gameplay-wise, the most obvious improvement would have to be the option to dual-class, for those of us who aren't playing "baby's first RPG" and have no need to be taught what a fighter or wizard is.
Subclasses seem surprisingly well thought out. Good job on those.
The skill system I criticized in PoE1 thus allows for more flexibility, which combined with the new skill tree interface makes leveling more interesting. Unfortunately the skills themselves are still rather limited in function. They mostly just go boom, buum, boum or buom. Some necessary balancing was done but druid lightning spells and monk / barbarian teleportation are still too good to pass up for lack of creative alternatives, especially at high levels. At least the redundancy in damage / effect types was trimmed.
Adding empowerment to every class' abilities seems a downgrade. Yes it adds more flexibility while fighting but also homogenizes the necessary thinker / thug split, as does treating magic spells and physical abilities the same way in skill trees.
In fact, wizard spellcasting is less interesting than ever thanks to no longer learning individual spells. Grimoires are pointless. Unless you look up an online cheat-sheet beforehand and build your character around a complementary grimoire, you'll probably just vendor them without even opening them and keep vaporous wizardry for its passive bonus.

Special mention should go to the concerted effort put into making individual fights more meaningful. You're no longer simply "clearing trash mobs" like every time you entered a new zone in PoE1 but fighting creatures and bandits who have at least some explicit / implicit shred of justification for being there beyond standing around waiting for you to kill them.

The new social / knowledge passive / active point system is indeed better. Not much advancement was made in terms of combat / noncombat integration, but then PoE was already ahead of the curve on that one.
Resting is slightly improved but the new "three wounds and you're out" system in place of heal / endurance seems at best a side-grade. Endurance / heath made players think in terms of attrition whereas getting a third wound on a character now just outright mandates a rest stop.

Weapons and other gear - improved, more flexible and rewarding to fiddle with stacking bonuses and various weapon modes. Very nice. Dual pistols with sequential firing is an inspired addition. Gear progression is also better, with unique / soulbound items coming later in the campaign, as they should, and while the new gear upgrades are less flexible than the old enchantment system, they do keep level 10 purples from being out-shone by level 15 greens.
Pokemon are at least less prevalent (though none of them should be directly controllable) and the new "explosives" and poisons skills make interesting additions.

The smaller party size is good, seems to have hit a real Goldilocks sweet spot at five characters for single-player game, balancing flexibility with redundancy. Quite a few quality of life improvements were made for vendoring or mid-cast spell re-targeting (predicting where an enemy would be in PoE1 was made impossible by the old bugaboo of pathfinding algorithms) plus enemies investigating traps to cut the tedium out of "pulling" (also marred by pathing in PoE1) etc.

Stealthing improved, though still not up to Elder Scrolls standards, not to mention true stealth-based games.

Ship combat and upgrading is mildly more interesting than the PoE1 fortress upgrades/defenses but still mostly a perfunctory timesink and in-game money sink. The cheapest, smallest, fastest ship is the only one you'll need until maybe the very last boss battles, as boarding is easier, less costly and more reliable than cannoneering.

Some aborted features are more difficult to comment on, like the lack of meaningful choice in ship upgrades. Towns possessing commerce / racial / religious characteristics would seem to indicate Obsidian's at least toying with the notion of some kind of trading / governance system (as they tried in Storm of Zehir) but there's no hint of following through on it in practical terms. Probably for the best. Sandbox games like Mount & Blade are much better suited to that sort of thing than are story-based RPGs.

In short, the game design side of this game design studio has remained solid, improving or at least doing no harm to its existing product... which makes all the more galling their willingness to undermine their work's quality through hypocritical politically correct thuggery. Though the trendy feminist male-bashing stands as the most glaring, the entire society of PoE has degraded from the original's more nuanced views to a trite, primitive mentality bordering on "what have the Romans ever done for us" nativist naivete. You could count on one hand the number of times the Vailians are not portrayed as greedy, vain Eurotrash heathen devils or the number of times the Huana are not portrayed as idyllic Noble Suevages (yeah, Noble Mary Suevage, add Pocahontas to your list TVTropes.)
For all their hamfisted attempts at tying their fantasy races to real-world counterparts (Italians and Polynesians) this flies in the face of historic examples of racism and prejudice. They end up tripping over their own self-righteousness. What, no love for the wops there, Obsidian?
Also, when the first PoE set the Glanfathans up as tribal defenders of ancient magitek, it very wisely dodged the pitfall of glorifying them. They're mostly unwitting tools of the gods and the Leaden Key, convenient puppets in the right place at the right time. The same went for the Pargrunnen in the White March expansion, who were revealed by the dialogues with Ondra to be not nearly as special as they liked to think themselves. PoE2 instead goes full retard with the even more primitive (and amusingly Zionist) Huana, who naturally turn out to be literally the gods' chosen people and direct heirs to Atlantis.

Don't even get me started on the hilariously awkward tendency to give the Vailians Mediterranean dark complexions to defuse any criticism... while painting the most despised Vailians more often than not as conspicuously pasty blonds (Benweth, Furrante, Degnos, Amreo) No racial profiling there!

In their desperation to drive their mangled point home, the sheer repetition and glaring omissions start to grate. The player character's dialogue options prompt you several times to ask others "why do you speak like a Vailian" or "why are you dressed like a Vailian" trying desperately to suggest some kind of cultural takeover... except it's perfectly natural for individuals to adapt to their social milieu. If we're being honest, we should also see plenty of examples of Vailians and Rauataians who have "gone native" Dances With Wolves style (why are you dressed like a Huana?) and their own difficulties fitting into both cultures.
Miraculously, there also seems to be nearly zero intermarriage or "rishathra" between the various races in this colonial free-for-all, even between the Rauataians and Huana who happen to be the same damn species. This despite pushing the free love bisexualism to ludicrous levels. What, everybody's a Kinsey 4-5 sexual unicorn all of a sudden but the much more likely inter-racial couples just freak you out, Obsidian? Oooopsie.

More amusingly, the Huana in their Disneyed tribal perfection never seem to have trouble with each other (aside from a valid, if spinelessly fashionable yuppie jab at caste systems) but are only oppressed by those evil, evil invading foreigners. No ritual headhunting expeditions, no canoe battles over prime fishing grounds, no ritual cannibalism, no wasteful potlatching, no harsh population control and 50% rates of infanticide due to limited island resources, no blood-soaked Trobriand crown jewels or generations-length tribal feuds, what a truly pacific Pacific!

Even if you can ignore the fact that the scant few good men are to Obsidian's writing team either dime-a-dozen romance novel toy-boys worshipping at the feet of women or any combination of post-sexual old/blind/dead daddy figures, there's something hopelessly goofy about the whole thing. Like any modern political correctness, it's so naively post-ironic as to be indistinguishable from self-parody. Regardless of whether you find any particular thematic elements insulting, the fact remains that in obsessively pursuing social justice platitudes, Deadfire's writers have neglected to make their stories interesting. Before you get annoyed at all the saintly, hyper-competent women standing up to stupid, evil men, you'll get bored of the repetitiveness.

Oh, I don't think I trust in your self-righteous suicide. I cry when angels deserve to die.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

I hope you all realize that if not for the movie Synecdoche, New York nobody would even know that word. It's not like it ever comes up in conversation.
We'd probably all think it was a typo of "pork" or "fork" or something.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Art of Femismancy, Part 5: The Sacred Stair and Tikawara

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 vilify men?

The Sacred Stair

Okauro (f) - bounty contractor, refers to bounties as "coin bonds" - okay, sure, whatever

Ydwin (f) - recruitable pale elf at the Spire. Self-possessed, educated, daring and just ever so slightly edgy. I'm tempted to bemoan the fact that she wasn't turned into a fully scripted companion, but given this writing team's dedication to feminist propaganda it's probably for the best. Ydwin's backstory "having witnessed the very worst in kith" would probably be a neverending parade of wife-beaters, rapists, pederasts, marauding warlords and other evil, evil, stupid, evil MEN.

Caedman Azo (m) - called back from PoE1 as failed counterpoint to Elette's capability. When men do science, you see, it's done wrong.
Flaune Elette (f) - lead animancer at the Spire of the Soul Seers. "You don't mind if I talk and work, do you?" Dedicated professional, and her work gets results too. Oh, look, yet another woman trapped between incompetent or evil males.
Rymrgand (m) - the Beast of Winter. I'm skipping god chorus interludes (mostly so I can skip that god-awful narration) but here he appears during an actual quest. No longer as a fearsome but stately and even-tempered embodiment of inevitability, of ultimate realism and nihilism as in PoE1, but as a boogeyman simply destroying everything he comes across. The boss monster in his zone is called the Soul Collector. Not collecting souls was pretty much Rymrgand's original defining difference from other gods like Berath.
Oh and look, somehow a male deity has replaced Woedica (f) as the daimonic enemy of animancy, holding back scientific progress. What an amazing coincidence.

Muhai (f) - disciple of Magran (f) who died a sympathetic lonely death in her mansion after she was ostracized by the queen (f) for giving bad directions
High Priest Hati (m) - stick-up-the-ass stickler, puts a male face on the refusal to give Muhai a Magranite cremation ceremony. Interestingly, if you do burn Muhai's corpse the process goes through without a hitch, suggesting Magran accepted her and this is yet another example of a meanie dummy man both conveniently obfuscating the conflict between two women and standing as an obstacle between another pair of women.

High Priest Kasu (m) - slowly poisoning himself to death to make room for his replacement. Helpful towards you and very dedicated to his slavish flim-flam before the altar of Berath, a hermaphrodite deity now represented only as female. I'd give pretty good odds on Kasu's replacement also being female.

Yseyr the Berathian (m) - deadly death guard inside the death-locked death-crypt guarding a death sword for the goddess of death from another death guard with a death ship, gives you a death chant for the high priest of death so he can die with extra death.
Death I say, death! I wish I could characterize him further, but given two different quests hinge on him, Yseyr's just a disappointingly half-assed mook. Apparently the writing team thought making fun of his old-timey accent (only the Huana Savages get Noble pasts) would mask all the other cheese.

High Priestess Saewyn (f) - Gaunite leader. Doesn't seem to serve any purpose except to put even more of a kindly down-home barbecue face on Xoti's seemingly all-female religion.

Nordagand (f) - Gaunite, Eder's contact in search of his long-lost sweetkidneys... or something


Vektor (m) - filthy, jittery dwarf left behind by the Vailian expedition because he had indigestion (maybe he'd like some of that purgative you gave to Pietro (m) in Dunnage?) Aside from the pants-shitting, ale is also involved. Openly despised by Himuihi.
Himuihi (f) - female warrior who hates sweaty outsiders, hates the stink of lagufaeth (fish humanoids) so she "pushed the cage with the young ones farther down the beach" so that a man can be the one most closely associated with the fish-babies' captivity (she just does the heroic capturing) and sends you to kill their broodmother, to drive them all away. Aggressive but only in defense of her tribe, you see.
Pekeho (m) - keeping a group of young lagufaeth captive to train them as slaves. Gave false testimony against Tamau (m) see below.
Lagufaeth Broodmother (f) - a reasonable sort, speaks, very willing to stop raiding the village (and reward you) if you'll only save her babies from the cage. Greeted cheerfully by Tekehu with "Hail, daughter of Ngati" - after he helps you slaughter several dozen sons of Ngati on the way up... Interestingly, the groups of lagufaeth you encounter on your way to her (enemies by default) no longer seem to contain broodmothers like they did in The White March. Sidewinders, redfins, mages, sure... but there's only one Mother, and she's the smart/good one. This, despite fish people logically being the most likely to develop a society of female fighters and male brood-keepers. Compare to the other androgynous monster species from PoE1 whose sex suddenly becomes an issue in PoE2: the evil vithrack Spindle Man and the good xaurip Mother Sharp-Rock.

Teana (f) - mute warrior turned drummer with whom you can start an impromptu jam session. Implied to have been somehow wronged by your ladies' man companion, Tekehu, but she's very forgiving.

Tamau (m) - fruit thief! Or not. Despite being innocent, a great deal of effort goes into proving him an absolute asshole.
Mukumu (m) - cruel torturer making comments disparaging the lower caste.
Rongi (m) - fruit thief! Fo' reals this time! But he's only doing it to save the seeds to grow more fruit to save his tribe. That stupid Ruanu (m) is too caught up in tradition to understand. Still, more than willing to have his scapegoat Tamau framed, tortured and executed for his own crime.
Wehata (f) - has one line only, an offhand musing which leads you to Rongi's food stash. Not that she purposely betrays Rongi or is in any capacity complicit in his crime, mind you. Wouldn't you know it: the one and only woman in this quest is the one whose honesty, innocence and perceptiveness shine the light of truth and goodness on the deeds of all those wicked, stupid MEN around her. And she doesn't even have to try.

Bonus feminist points: as soon as your first dialogue with Tamau / Mukumu starts, before you even know what's going on, your companion Xoti (f) blurts out "Watcher! We can't just let this injustice stand!" (injustice? she knows that... how?) - and she's praised by the proud Mataru warrior Mukumu for passing a first-glance judgment on himself : "I say! This outsider speaks her mind like a Mataru." Yes, that's exactly what happens when you walk up to a high-caste tribal warrior you've never met and yell out calling him unjust before he's even had a chance to speak. He sings your praises.

Ruanu (m) - local chief collaborating with the Vailian Trading Company for profit, over-extending his tribe's meager resources to build a trading post. His dialogue and descriptions repeatedly imply this is a bad, bad idea, and everyone else condemns him for it. Note that he's blamed both for being too recklessly progressive and for being too recalcitrantly conservative vis-a-vis eating seeds instead of planting them. No matter which way you spin the Obsidian magic 8-ball, the answer comes up "men are evil." All this despite the seed-eating being a religious practice, thus logically the purview of Nairi. Nope, nope, nope, it's a MAN's fault!
Nairi (f) - new priestess, after her father the old priest conveniently died to make room for her. In a choked, heartfelt voice: "Outlanders conquer us with ink-and-paper pacts as well as blades, but they conquer us all the same." And sure, sure, she magically induced the Vailians to brutally murder each other, but she has an excuse: "Foreign ships raided our old villages and carried away our people."
Anaharu (m) - Nairi's daddums, former priest, challenged Ruanu (m) on his collaboration with outsiders. Angry and bombastic so as to rapidly lose the audience's sympathy. Also presiding over a heap of rotting soul-flesh, for, y'know, extra eeee-veeel. Slightly dead now, he's holding a bunch of souls hostage to power storms to keep the greedy ersatz Europeans' ships away. The storms are also driving away fish and rotting plants, thereby starving his own tribe. Explicitly voices a selfish motivation just so we don't mistake a disgusting male for a hero: "I will be reborn as a ranga" (chief)
Beza (f) - Vailian miner whose party killed each other, victims of Nairi's hexed statuette. Trapped as a spirit by Anaharu. Plucky, sassy, constantly needling Anaharu. Anything bad she does is naturally only out of loyalty to the company.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Art of Femismancy, Part 4: the pirate islands

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. What rhetorical methods does Obsidian employ in its very divergent moralistic portrayal of men and women?

Fort Deadfire

Sceydwin (f) - victim of Benweth's brutality

Lamond (m) - wants you to rescue his crew from the dungeons in exchange for helping you kill:
Benweth (m) the irredeemable villain of the story. Though I believe it's technically possible to spare his life, your entire introduction to the pirate side of the map revolves around killing him.
Syri the Siren (f) - Serafen's contact for another route to killing Benweth. Yet another victimized woman trapped between despicable men. How many is that now?
Serafen (m) - whatever his portrayal during the rest of the story, his only purpose here is to absorb a woman's insults for make-work crimes. Syri's so furious she's literally ready to shoot him because after they slept together he... neglected to spend every day slavishly writing her love letters while he was at sea. Her insane control-freak possessiveness is promoted as the most angelic high ground. The only way to make peace between them seems to force Serafen to debase himself begging her forgiveness: "what be broke in me there ain't fixin' for. I be a right sad fuck, and there ain't nothing to account for it but me."
What, no option to hand Serafen a can of gas and make him self-immolate in contrition for slipping his leash?

(missing two minor characters here but given I can't visit the west side of the fort without my computer blue-screening, deal with it)

Aeldys (f) - leader of the good pirate faction. Opens her introduction to you by trash-talking her "unfortunately blockheaded second-in-command" Benweth (m) whom you killed, because she's loyal to her crew... (?) Saucy with you at every opportunity (because when women do it it's not #MeToo, but "empowerment") etc. Contrast with your character's reaction to Amreo (m) who hits on you at the bath-house.
Aeldys is pro-freedom and anti-slavery. Her abolitionists' club includes:
Mad Morena (f) feeding the poor
Selinia (f) standing up to (male) authority
Seafol (f) running slaves to freedom
Benweth (m) - ooops, he's dead before you ever meet her and she explicitly distances herself from his actions.
And if you think that's (f)-ed up, wait 'til you meet Furrante's sausage fest.


Udita (f) - bounty contractor, highly personable, politically astute and discreet, volunteers a reference to a drunken ex-husband for mandatory feminist street cred

Dessiral (f) - wants revenge for her sister who was "seduced to a dishonest life" by a pirate crew and sends you off after four bounty targets. Interestingly, two of them are male, two female... yet the writer still managed to put a subliminal feminist spin on the backstory of a ship led by a male pirate captain "seducing" a young girl with the promise of adventure. Not sure the term "seduce" was ever again inserted into this game's scripts.

Pietro (m) - pirate at the inn, swallowed a precious gem and needs to be utterly humiliated with a disgusting purgative in order to retrieve it. If Abocco (m) spilled ale on his pants, this guy shits 'em! After vomiting! And begging for your help pathetically! And groaning in agony! Hah! Haaahahahaha!
Rosanella (f) - wise, kindly merchant helping Pietro by telling you the purgative recipe.

Barquami (m) - blinded beggar you can turn into a bad actor under the leadership of:
Calandra (f) - puts on terrible plays, requires you to supply her with a big dumb male (Barquami) to stand around looking impressive and a clever special effects wizard (Taerna (f)) to make her stage show into the talk of the town.

Taerna (f) - innocent wizard and gambler caught in a debt trap, and you're required to pay off her debt to complete Calandra's quest. Compare to Xoti's "wring his neck" reaction to finding out Oswald (m) can't pay his debts. Be a deadbeat, my son, but be an ovaried one. It makes me laugh, makes me laugh, makes me laAaauu - ugh!
Jacob Harker (m) - famous pirate who's abandoned piracy after avenging the death of his father. You're warned not to ask him about it - but instead of him attacking as you as he threatens, you're attacked in the streets by thugs out to get him. Willing to sell you Taerna's debt. Wondering why this particular man engaging in vile exploitation of a woman is allowed to be more dignified and cooperative (and even a victim) than other males in the game? His portrait supposedly bears some resemblance to Tim Cain, one of the bigwigs at Obsidian. Still, he's positioned as an evil male obstacle between two good women who want to cooperate as per Deadfire boilerplate. You'd think he'd at least get to be the "one good man" of Deadfire's male-bashing feminist wonderland.

Two-Eyed Pim (m) - badly voiced third chair and second banana to Furrante.

Selinia (f) - survivor of an attack by the Flying Dutchman Floating Hangman, a one-shot character whose only real function is to further demonize Furrante.
Despite her recent physical and psychological trauma, subjected to merciless interrogation by both him and yourself. Before she even starts telling the story, you have the option to open the conversation with this gem: "You will think hard and recount every detail you can. Understand? Do it even if it hurts, even if it kills you." Well, I don't know if it hurt her head, but the stupidity of that opening's certainly hurting mine. And yet she pluckily, fatalistically brushes it aside. Isn't she great folks? Let's give her a hand! Later, this gratuitous description: "When [Furrante] dismissively waves her away, her black eyes narrow and she raises her chin, defiant. But then he turns his full gaze to her, suddenly seething, and she shrinks in on herself."
For bonus points "she belongs to Aeldys"(f) the good pirate queen opposing Furrante.
Furrante (m) - educated, refined Old World male. Place your bets as to how evil he'll turn out to be. He's working with slavers against his own faction's rules, has a quick temper and worst of all he's proud of his heritage!
Yes, that last one's bad, very bad. Only quaint loincloth-clad Pacific Islanders blurting Tribalese get to brag about their noble heritage and traditions. Quaint, doublet-clad Mediterraneans spouting Italianese have to disown theirs.
Purely by coincidence, Furrante's pro-slavery faction also includes:
Master Kua (m) - the slaver
Dereo (m) - mob boss (officially non-partisan, but badmouths Aeldys and initially blocks your access to Aeldys' ally Morena)
Castol (m) - the Vailian Trading Company leader whose quest chain segues into Furrante / Kua's
Two-Eyed Pim (m) - ... what exactly is this schmoe's purpose besides putting another male face on the bad pirates?

Subtle, huh?


Seafol (f) - Aeldys' underground railroader

Auctioneer Marcca (f) - as advertised. Sells slaves, but she's all business. Openly voices fear of her Master, just so we don't think a woman could do wrong by her own free will. I will give Obsidian this much: they at least included female bidders in the slave auction. It's something. Baby steps, y'know?

Master Kua (m) - satisfyingly despicable big little man. Master slaver. Sends you to assassinate tribal leaders fighting for Frreeeedooommm!

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Farmville, Bidonville, Marsville

Now I know we're all excited by the Curiosity rover sniffing fossilized ET farts on Mars. Maybe. Possibly. It's providing a minor boost to Surviving Mars' already minor popularity and if there ever were a profitable time for Hollywood to invest in a few dozen mind-rapingly terrible Red Mars adaptations, now's that time. But let us remember that the problem with interplanetary exploration has never been the interplanetary part. It's the would-be explorers.

That would be you, dear reader.

We could probably all be living to 120 years or more in clean, safe comfort and adventuring out as we please if it weren't for the all-too-many "all" and we could probably be dancing around in the Kuiper Belt if we wanted to. We don't want to. We'd rather make up idiotic fairy tales about supernatural saviors while we build mansions and hovels upon hovels and mansions and clutter this exhausted old planet with our disgusting, moronic progeny. Religion, social status, control, until we outgrow these any true scientific growth is meaningless fluff, pearls thrown before seven and a half billion degenerate swine.

Spaceships, if they come, won't look anything like the clean, sleek, purposeful, polite, egalitarian Enterprise.
They will look like this:
Because you billions upon billions of redundant filthy apes are not interstellar explorers. You're brainless, instinct-driven, superstitious, murderous, backstabbing vermin, and you breed accordingly.