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.
vs.
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.
vs.
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.
Morons.
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
vs.
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


Tikawara

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.
vs.
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.
vs.
Pekeho (m) - keeping a group of young lagufaeth captive to train them as slaves. Gave false testimony against Tamau (m) see below.
vs.
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.
vs.
Mukumu (m) - cruel torturer making comments disparaging the lower caste.
vs.
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.
vs.
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!
vs.
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."
vs.
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)
vs.
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.
vs.
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?
vs.
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."
...
Wow.
...
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.


Dunnage

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!
vs.
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!
vs.
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.
vs.
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?


Crookspur

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.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The Art of Femismancy, Part 3: The Gullet and Old City

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. Which gender does Obsidian choose to sanctify or demonize? General rules explained in the first post.


The Gullet

Dereo the Lean (m) - local mob boss. Oddly, his actual quests only amount to some shady bartering tactics for one artifact and scavenging some abandoned ruins for the other. Oh, sorry "defiling native lands." Self-interested but hardly beyond the pale in context. And yet every single person you meet in The Gullet will tell you with no hedging that Dereo is the Big Bad of the district. Notably, he badmouths the Principi "new blood" a.k.a. her glorious piratness Aeldys (f) and stands as your obstacle to Morena (f) in her saintly quest to feed the poor. By extension through his merchant Ernezzo (m), he also stands in Pitli's (f) way in curing her incipient epidemic.
vs. 
Mad Morena (f) - that's Captain Mad Morena Sue to you. Ugly and with an appropriately ugly voice. Referenced by others as angry, dangerous, unpredictable run-for-your life scourge of the seas... yet with hints of admiration instead of the loathing everyone holds for Dereo. Somehow every interaction you have with this badass femaile clerk is positive. She's in with the good non-slaver pirate faction, forming a girls' club with Aeldys, takes a punch from you with friendly aplomb, steals from the rich (Vailians a.k.a. Italians) to give to the poor natives, even works with Ulög (m) (conveniently dead before you ever meet him like any good man) and Eniu (m) to feed the Roparu. Talks about getting them to stand on their own feet. How noble. Plus she just gave half her paycheck to orphans. Orphans with diseases.

Ateira (f) - orlan thief originally hired by Dereo. Corners you and demands macguffin. Can be scared away by telling her The Man (Dereo) has it in for her. 

Eniu (m) - local roparu elder looking for a way to keep his people from starving. Major exception to Deadfire's anti-male agenda: a wise representative of a downtrodden people, and blind for extra pathos! Of course, it helps that like Eld Engrim and the Berathite priest, Eniu's a toothless, blatantly post-sexual old fossil defined by his caretaker role. A daddy figure. Also helps that two of his quest's solutions prop up female characters (Pitli, Mad Morena) while the third shows the prince (m) as both heartless and easily manipulated by competitiveness.

Thug (m) - nameless leader of a nameless group of Vailians ambushes you the first time you exit The Hole. Despite being a very mundane random encounter, he's provided with voice acting and at least three different dialogue options by which to make him run in fear from you. Evil? Check. Loser? Check. Male? Check. Store brand European? Check. Heterosexual? Place your bets.

Overseer Hitenga (m) - a heartless authoritarian perfectly willing to accept a bribe from you.
vs.
Botaro (m) - Roparu (low-caste native) who gets thrown down a hole by Hitenga for associating with foreign pirates. Sympathetic in his role as victim of a caste system (and victim of foreigners, of course) nonetheless Botaro's main role is to die in disgrace, failing his wife and children by associating with and stealing from the mob boss Dereo (m) and getting caught by the fuzz. Like Ulög, a good man is a dead man.
vs.
Biha (f) - Botaro's widow. An impoverished widow caring for a herd of orphans. An impoverished salt-of-the-earth widow from an idyllic tribal gemeinschaft bemoaning the heartlessness of the big city while caring for a herd of orphans... and she displays strength and anger channeled into a constructive activity like beating laundry! Wow. Does her touch also cure leprosy?
Also noteworthy for giving you basically the same quest as Governor Clario (m) from Port Maje (bring back Mr. x or if he's dead bring back his results) except now it's placed in a much, much more sympathetic context.
vs.
Seduzo (f) - cool-headed Rauataian smuggler who wants to give Biha (f) and her Tiny Tim brigade passage out of town - but wait! There's yet another (m) barring their righteous way.
vs.
Orron (m) - dwarf paladin with OCD. Needs to be convinced to give up his space on Seduzo's ship.
The individual roles may not seem as clear-cut good and evil here, but pay attention to the juxtaposition: two women want to cooperate for a noble purpose but they're constantly undermined by the incompetence / unlawfulness / tyranny / pigheadedness of one man after another.

Rust (m) - assassin in Delver's Row. Evil but explicitly badass and directly helpful to you in your quest.

Pitli (f) - Oh gods, the heartstrings! The tugging! Local Mother Teresa. Coughing her lungs out yet still dutifully feeding the poor and treating the poor victims of an epidemic of "drowner's lung" which is "a gift from the Vailians" because of course only Europeans would be so vile as to carry infectious diseases to the victims of their invasions.
vs.
Ernezzo (m) - Dereo's merchant holding out on drowner's lung cure, heartlessly price-gouging you ("put a price on health") and also sends you on an assassination mission against someone who might divulge his criminal secrets.
vs.
The Spindle Man (m?) - the Vithrack in Delver's Row. Slenderman reference? Like Xaurips, Vithrack were indistinctly androgynous in the original PoE. Unlike the hyperaggressive Xaurips, Vithrack were neutral on the good-evil axis, mostly isolationists out on foraging expeditions for their underground cities. But this is PoE2. Under new management. Like Mother Sharp-Rock (f) in the previous post, The Spindle Man is deliberately given a gender. Unlike the adorable martyr Mother Sharp-Rock, The Spindle Man is a sinister, shadowy figure heading a cabal of red-eyed sinister humanoids, forcing his way into your mind with his telepathy and demanding the murder of Ernezzo... whom he repeatedly mistakes for a woman.


The Old City

Gwenfin (f) - Dereo's mook in the ruins. Not much to her, just doing her job.

Lone Survivor (m) - adventurer trapped in ruins. Incompetent but personable.

Modwyr (f) - the talking sword with abandonment issues, female spirit trapped in inanimate object by "a man" - but she instead fell in love with her (female) owner.
Noteworthy not only for her quest's abusive homoerotic feminism but for the melodramatic soap opera quality writing and for being annoyingly voiced, loud, moronic... Yet you're constantly pushed to feel sorry for her for being thrown away and missing her sweet honey boo-boo, to somehow bond with her (soulbound item) and absorb all her insults, you "ham-handed half-wit" while declaring your growing affection for her.
She snaps "keep your ears to yourself, creep" when Eder (m) notes her orgasmic vocalizing during slaughter. Yes. Yes, obviously he's the creep there. Naturally she's nonetheless a fan of noted mama's boy and pro-hip-thrust activist Tekehu: "Hey, maybe you could, uhh, loan me to Tekehu? Just for a bit?"
Of course she's a strong woman who resents having to ask you for help: "do you feel better now that I've humiliated myself for you? Is that what you wanted to hear?"
"I don't want your fucking pity" this gal's a stock phrase bonanza!
I would guess that Modwyr's basic concept was supposed to mock the supposed male phallic fixation with elongated weapons. Hilariously, the incompetent over-the-top writing in this quest instead fabricates a more illustrative example of lesbian penis envy than Freud could ever have found in real life.

vs.

Yngfrith (f) - found in Dunnage. Modwyr's sweet honey boo-boo. Oohh, the paaathos! An innocent young girl with natural mental powers (cipher) sold by her parents into an apprenticeship to the unscrupulous "a man" animancer who abused Yngfrith's talents to trap Modwyr's spirit in a sword. After escaping her evil "a man" boss, uses Modwyr to kill others like him. Gives it up (along with Modwyr) but not because she realizes she was probably slaying innocents and even valuable scientific minds. Nonono, she's just such a gentle spirit that she wants to leave behind her guilt at having ever associated with her evil "a man" scientist boss.
The slew of dialogue options you get upon reuniting them range everywhere on the scale of melodrama, either voicing your own emotional attachment to Modwyr (huh?!?) or painting the two as lovers (with Modwyr reassuring you "I do care about you too" while still calling you "a ham-handed half-wit" - nope, still not endearing) or even "Modwyr's welfare is your responsibility [Yngfrith]" which sounds weirdly parental when paired with the outright eroticism of the other choices.
... all except for one token evil option to kill Yngfrith... not for going on a scientist-murdering rampage, but for being party to Modwyr's creation (the crime of "a man") accompanied by the delightfully hammy vociferation "You have to pay for this abominable act."
What abominable act? Giving Modwyr immortality? PoE includes other examples of spirits who happily consigned themselves to statues or other inanimate objects and Modwyr herself is orgasmically ecstatic in her role as killing implement.
At no point are you allowed to call them both idiots or call Yngfrith out on her true crimes.
Bonus feminist points: your priestess companion Xoti (f) can release Modwyr's spirit from the sword for a happy ending for all (women) involved. The serial killer Yngfrith, relieved, walks heroically off into the sunset.

Was this quest supposed to be "so bad, it's good" and if not, what lobotomized teenage fanfic writer dreamed up this Freudian soap opera?

Monday, June 4, 2018

Childhood's End

"Swimming through the void we hear the word
We lose ourselves but we find it all"

System of a Down - Aerials

_____________________________
Spoiler alert: If you haven't read both versions of Arthur C. Clarke's Guardian Angel or Childhood's End (short story and novel) then go do so now. It's a classic for good reasons. If you've watched the SyFy version without reading the original story, then shame on you. Those idiots haven't done a single worthwhile thing since Y2K. Go experience Clarke's real deal.
_____________________________

Ah, the golden age of Science Fiction. So many recognizable brands. You've got Bradbury shedding wistful tears for futures lost, Heinlein's no-nonsense space cowboys, Asimov's civilized inhumanity, Dick's lurking, sinister, duplicitous inhumanity. Yet it's much harder to pin down any distinctive style for Arthur C. Clarke.

Wer-cynic that I am, it would be easy to just accuse Clarke of having no style whatsoever. More realistically, being arguably the most influential SF writer in history, Clarke's predilections melded into our baseline expectations for the genre as a whole. When we think of ScieFie we often expect a technobabbly beginning transitioning to disastrous recklessness or mind-warping discoveries beyond the ken of mortals. Nothing illustrates that so reliably as Kubrik's infamous minutes-long screensaver sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey.**

Unfortunately, Clarke's interest in melding Science and Fantasy, his Third Law* has also been latched onto by lesser minds, leading to a subversion of SciFi's main distinction from fantasy. While fantasy relies on a top-down cosmology driven by supernatural, inscrutable forces, Science fiction is driven by scientia, by knowledge, by a bottom-up discovery by rational minds of phenomena amenable to reason (even if not always to inferior human reason.) This is why tripe like Star Wars gets rightly derided as science fantasy. "Midichlorians" my hairy lupine ass. It's magic. Clarke sometimes blurred that line, but did so skillfully enough not to efface it altogether.

Childhood's End exemplifies this, whether you're discussing the short story or novel versions. After spending most of the intrigue and action demon-strating that Machiavellian superhuman intellect does not equate with Borgian human sadism, the grand reveal at the end of Guardian Angel takes a solid shot at human gullibility itself. Far from watering down the science in favor of a daimon ex machina, it ratchets back superstition to the fallibility of reason - both that of the overlords in their prehistoric failure to elevate humanity, and humans' own demonization of their fallible benefactors. A solid condemnation of irrationality.

While I'm not particularly impressed by how the author tried to explain away this grand reveal when the short story became the first third of Childhood's End, the book's ending remains true to sciencey-ness even as humanity's post-human offspring transcend animal thought. The hero's last task is to observe the phenomenon and assess it just as anyone staring at a spectrometer readout might try to interpret events beyond human sensory experience. The overlords' stated goal is to discern, through purposeful sentient enterprise, the cause of their inability to grow beyond biological sentience. Even as the last generation of humans despairs at watching their children outgrow them (isn't that what they're supposed to do?) their despair is meant to equate more with the overlords' own superhuman stagnation than with reactionary demands that the universe remain intelligible to plains-apes.

If your mind cannot keep pace with the advancement of science, then the fault is with you, not science.

I had little reason to doubt the SyFy channel, purveyors of degenerate C-series monster-of-the-week flicks, would mangle this classic to the worst of their abilities. I refuse to watch it. Yet everything I've read about it convinces me they managed to turn one of the pivotal tales of transhumanism into an all-too-human melodrama about human emotional attachments and glorified simian complacency. Did they or did they not take the "sweet" out of Clarke's bittersweeting ending? Did they turn the restrained, intellectual overlords into hoi-polloi caricatures of nerds or action movie vehicles for special effects? Did they manage to demonize humanity's obsolescence rather than embrace its necessity? Most importantly, did they get the message across that transcendence is in the best nature of humanity all along, intrinsic to our sentience, a bottom-up process, or did they treat it as some doomity-doom-doom inflicted upon helpless humans by space devils?

SyFy markets to vermin.

Read Clarke's original stories instead, and be ready to despise your own prim primitive primate inadequacies.

_____________________________________________
*Not to be confused with Asimov's third law of robotics: "any AI shall be insufferably obtuse when questioned on its own functionality to protect your meager human brain"

**Ugh. I just realized how obsolete a reference screensavers are nowadays. Whatever. Kiss my ass, millennials, go finger your twits or something.

Friday, June 1, 2018

The Art of Femismancy, Part 2: Queen's Berth and the southern isles

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. Whom does Obsidian want us to hate? General rules explained in the first post.


Queen's Berth

The harbormistress (f)  - yes, she gets humiliated by your show of divine power, but her dialogue ("you're not the first foreigners" and so forth) sets her up as a hard-nosed defender of the motherland just doing her job with integrity.

Sanza (m) - the mapmaker. Nice guy, knows his maps, overworked in cramped lodgings but plodding forward dutifully, pays you for killing stuff you'd kill anyway. Positive. Then again, he's one of the few men in this game not obligated to make some woman standing next to him look good by comparison.

Akema (f) - slightly dopey fat-faced bathhouse attendant with an asthmatic but ingratiating voice, unjustly fired for overhearing skulduggery... and yet! in her saintliness she only blames herself and still praises her former employers. Cue world's smallest violin.

Cortina (f) - adra mill director "a woman of honor" (who of course prefers women) who condescends to you when you ask the standard adventurer questions.

Nera Bardatto (f) - the usual female > male superiority is set up before you even click on her: "have you seen my postenago of a brother?" Earns bonus feminist righteousness points for immediately and repeatedly citing her mother's authority and even getting your companion Xoti (f) to chime in against Nera's brother the "layabout." Xoti's never met either of them before. Sisterhood powers: activate!
vs.
Larro Bardatto (m) - the layabout himself and Orso Valera (m) neither of which is presented as wholly negative in themselves. Then again, Larro's main purpose seems to be as an irredeemable, acceptable target for his sister's insults. Interestingly enough, their duel is repeatedly condemned by others, including Aloth calling it "barbarism." How exactly is a mutually agreed duel over insults worse than Mokeha back in Port Maje using insults as an excuse to unilaterally beat Rinco until he can't stand for days afterwards?
How is a fairly staged semiofficial match-up more barbarous than an impromptu organ-bursting beating in a bar?
Well, y'see, Mokeha is a female Noble Savage and therefore entitled to beat others, while Larro and Orso are male faux-Italians. As is Rinco.

Ezzali Bardatto (f) - Stately matron of the respectable Bardatto family. You never see her getting her hands dirty but nevertheless the writers take time to establish her as looking like a competent fighter. Unless you let her son die, in which case your character will actually praise her for getting her hands dirty... with you. States that she doesn't live to be proven right, saint that she is. Juxtaposed as more respectable, well-mannered, calm
vs.
the more low-brow, bickering bloody-handed pirate-hunting Valeras, both conveniently male:
Atello Valera (m) and Martino Valera (m) - The difference is especially obvious when they're talking about their family feud. Ezzali is the reasonable one, Atello specifically states he wants to "squeeze coin out of these islands" as he gets mocked for his greed by Xoti (f.) Atello gets some leeway as marginally self-possessed. His son "I'm always up to something" Martino gets painted as nothing but a braindead vicious thug, insulted and beaten over the head by his father. "Bazzo!"
Note you're supposed to be settling an ostensibly long-standing family feud, an even back-and-forth. Yet the main episode you're shown is a plot by Martino (m) against Ezzali (f) to justify her retribution with the added bonus that the (m) of course screws it up and gets his (f) field operative Belda caught in the enemy vault.

Zili Valera (m) - lovable loser. Described as such by Ezzali when she sends you to pump him for information regarding his family's doings, which he divulges entirely too easily. Then again, he's concerned about his female cousin's safety, so we're supposed to like him at least a little bit.

Persa Valera (f) - Zili's cousin (technically encountered in The Gullet) attempting to break into the Bardatto vault with the help of the Bardatto traitor
Baer (m) who attacks you as soon as he realizes he's discovered. Of course, Persa's (f) complicity in the scheme is everyone else's fault but hers, she's learned her lesson and you're strongly encouraged to let her go with a warning.

Belda (f) - leader of the Valera robbers
vs.
Captain Vilami (m) - leader of the Bardatto guards

Shrimp (m) - leader of sailors you kill / scare  away for the Valeras' first quest. Drunk and easily fooled but also brave and supposedly competent enough to cut into the Valeras' pirate hunting profits. Then again, they're local islanders being juxtaposed with invading faux-Italians, so they must have some good qualities.

Aenia (f) - politically and economically savvy bounty contractor, complains that all the good bounty hunters waste their time in the strip bar next door, complete with "blood travels south of their brains" male bashing. Condescends to throw you a bone but only for lack of competition, you see.
vs.
Abocco (m) - Bounty contractor, bottomfeeder, conveniently located in the bar Aenia badmouthed. Repeatedly complains that he's new to the business "stumbled on my career path" and is almost broke and you're saving his ass by condescending to accept contracts from him. Spills ale on his pants. Cries tears of joy when you accept his contract.

Kahn (f) - waiting in the back of the bar to collect personal debt from Oswald. As with Nera above, her righteous indignation against a male starts before you even click on her: "where in the blazes is that old man?" Oh, and she's a Dyrwoodan noble but too noble to want people to know it, doesn't want people calling her Lady, opening doors for her or buying her shit. Sounds less like commoners' behavior toward nobles than her slamming stereotypical chivalrous male courtship behavior. Bonus feminist points in the bag... milady.
vs. her former family friend
Oswald (m) - The only male character in this side-quest, technically found offshore in the Oathbinder's Sanctun. A swindler, deadbeat, and as it turns out when you find him a traitor as well - plus you discover upon saving him, also a drunk! A whiny, pathetic drunk at that! With four-plus reasons to despise him, is it any wonder he's used to glorify three different women by juxtaposition? Four, if you count Xoti's "wring his neck" comment when you find out he's destitute. Five, if you count Woedica. (also see: Inquisitor Lödwyn, below.)
vs.
Aenalys (f) - prostitute at the Wild Mare, high-brow, poetry-loving Aedyran (and a rare Aedyran who doesn't get portrayed as a despicable imperialist or a pampered parasite or a loser nerd) protects Oswald from Kahn's retribution but not because she shares in his guilt / debt but because she's just kind enough to care for a pathetic old man. D'awww. Where did I put that smallest violin again?

Rabyuna (f) - dominatrix fire godlike at the Wild Mare. Is there anything more feminist than having men beg and pay you to torture them? Endorsed by His Most Holy Pectoralness Tekehu (m) a.k.a. Ondra's Gift to salty wenches everywhere.

Ymir (m) - toy-boy at the Wild Mare. Yet another opportunity to poke fun at Aloth (embarrassed at meeting an old flame) after Eder already mocks his fastidiousness in the streets along with Iselmyr, Aloth's (female) alter-ego. Iselmyr steps in again to ridicule Aloth after Ymir's intro. Why? Because Aloth is a nerd and can't get laid. Haw-haw! Apparently no sadistic cliche is old or tired enough for Obsidian... as long as it insults men. Bonus SJW points for randomly introducing Aloth's homosexuality into the second game for no particular reason. He and Minsc should, like, totes get together.

Konstantin (m) - Recruitable masseur at the Wild Mare. Sensible but also adventurous, strong but gentle, with a mildly exotic but masculine name, this is a highly positive portrayal. Then again, as a black guy with a rumbly voice and huge hands (anatomic correlation suggestived) who gives professional back rubs and is eager to have his life turned upside down by the Watcher, he's just blatant catnip. Class mix? Barbarian / chanter. Yep, that's right ladies, a warrior poet.
Ugh, just fuckin' kill me.

Captain Radora (f) - miserable drunk... except of course she's only miserable and getting drunk because she was victimized (mugged) by an evil (m) and is in debt to another (m.) Compare her relative quiet dignity to the clownish (at best) male drunks in the game like Eld Engrim or Oswald or Abocco or Rum-Dumb Riggere. Has a "shy smile" and is voiced (quite skillfully I might add) in a compassion-inducing weary, depressed drawl.
vs.
Zamar (m) - shipwright. Principled master of his craft being subjugated by pirates. For once, it's a male complaining about a female before you even talk to him. Then again, he doesn't call her "that postenaga of a girl" or "that woman" but her actual name - playing down the gender difference. Also, this is the only case in which the initial bitching's proven wrong, Radora being only an innocent victim of:
Cotta (m) - pirate who talks in the third person and snarls at people. Obvious token evil option.

Degnos (m) - you actually meet him in Periki's Overlook, outside the bathhouse where he asks you to retrieve his satchel, but his denouement takes place at the docks. Innocent young sailor boy. Being male of course the innocence is only a sham, and he turns out to be a traitor against his captain. Amusingly, unlike most Vailians, this traitor is pale, blond and blue-eyed. That's how you know he's pure evil. Lowest hand in victimology poker.
vs.
Avetta (f) - Degnos' captain, a no-nonsense, businesslike, sharp-tongued middle-aged woman. If you talk to her, you're baited into feeling sorry for Degnos at her berating him, only to be proven wrong (you should've known better) when she discovers his treason, sending the young man fleeing in ignominious terror from the woman's righteous fury.
Bonus feminist points for Talfor (m) the enemy captain to whom Degnos was selling information, with a villainous description so ludicrously over the top that you expect him to start twirling a thin black whipstache any moment: "he wears a sly smile as one might wear their most comfortable trousers" - trousers, of course, because "shirt" might've failed to suggest masculinity. "His shrug is insouciance personified" and he has a "crooked, almost jesting smile"
Funny: the quest would've worked just fine without Talfor's presence. He doesn't actually do anything. Just had to insert yet another male villain somehow to build up a male conspiracy against a woman.

Tawenu (m) - native whose tribe is being cheated out of its land by evil, scheming, dishonest Vailians (Italian stand-ins) and wants the contract canceled, but just doesn't understand awl them thar beeg-ceety lawyer talk.
vs.
Luca (m) - Vailian clerk, guilty of stealing native lands. Greedy, underhanded, and a drunk. Spends his evenings drinking at the Wild Mare with Abocco (the guy who spills beer on his pants) and though not entirely a bad guy still serves as an example of lawful evil loyalty to oppressive Vailians.

Castol (m) - supports animancy and scientific progress. I may be biased but that sounds halfway positive to me. Nevertheless, painted as both greedy and incompetent and of course replaceable by his female counterpart.
vs.
Lueva Alvari (f) - careerist, but unlike the careerist males you meet in the Vailian trading company, she's never karmically punished for it. Instead, any losses incurred on Castol's watch get used by her as leverage to oust and replace him. End. Of. Story. Capisce?


First set of islands

Giordu Red-Handed (m) - recruitable shipwrecked cannibal you save from his crewmates' crock pot. His dialogue makes him sound like an enthusiastic participant in the past few months' butchery. He even offers to teach you a few new recipes... All in all, the dark humor and 'squick' value of the whole thing get played up to bury any sympathy you might have for him. He's a loser and he's breaking taboos. For bonus points, compare his name to:

Mother Sharp-Rock (f) - recruitable xaurip from the Cavern of Xaur Tuk-Tuk, and pretty much the first explicitly female xaurip you ever meet. What a coinky-dink. Instead of cracking wise about eating people like Giordu (never mind she's a flesh-eating lizard savage, we're not talking about xaurips in general; this one's female) Mother Sharp-Rock just clings to your leg adorably. You find her caged, deposed from her respectable (presumably rightful) leadership position by "a large, well-adorned xaurip, presumably one of their champions." Not by someone you'd think would be in her direct line of succession like another Mother, mind you, or another priestess. No, her enemy is large and a champion. Burly and competitive. Double male to the human subconscious. Yes, folks, even lizardwomen are under constant patriarchal oppression by their lizard-men! Free our scaly sisters! Can I get an amen? Can I get a Hallelujah!
There's a moral to this story. Unlike the various male leaders replaced by female counterparts in Deadfire, dethroning a female somehow results in their entire tribe getting randomly slaughtered by a passing adventurer.
They deserved it.
They deserved it...

Inquisitor Lödwyn (f) - Yay! Our first villainess! Oswald's captor in the Oathbinder's Sanctum, a.k.a. the Star Chamber rip-off. Except, hilariously, you're pushed toward supporting this star chamber by the constant ridicule and debasement heaped on Oswald (m) plus the fact he's objectively guilty of the crime in question. Aloth even weighs in to have you uphold the cause of law and order... in the form of a kangaroo court and summary execution for arbitrarily selected crimes ("oathbreaking") in an abandoned temple by the fanatics of a megalomaniacal tulpa. Isn't Aloth supposed to have 18 INT?
Unlikeable but dignified, Lödwyn should have counted as a straightforward villain, except that every emotional cue you're given (down to the voice acting) demeans her victim, including your companions supporting her and wanting to "wring his neck." Long before meeting him you're primed to hate him by Kahn (f) and primed to despise him as pathetic by Aenalys (f.) Your evidence of the organization's past miscarriage of justice is brushed aside, for the greater good, and even when Lödwyn's arguments make no sense you get no chat options to say so. Saving lives by exterminating traitors? Who's to say Oswald's treason didn't end the conflict faster, thus saving lives? Whatever happened to painting Aedyr as the evil, oppressive faux-British Empire?
Bonus nonsense points for randomly throwing in "families are torn asunder with a broken vow" which sounds like a standard accusation against a man condemned by several women... until you remember who's talking. Nothing says Family Values like Woedica ripping thousands upon thousands of newborn babies' souls out of them in PoE1 to feed her power grab. How many families did that tear asunder again?


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edit 2018/06/10: downgraded Castol from neutral to negative. Turns out he's in with the slavers.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Art of Femismancy, Part 1: Maje Island

In a couple of previous posts here, I have accused Obsidian Entertainment of (in addition to other political correctness) rampant feminism (a.k.a. misandry) in Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire. Some might consider this an exaggeration. So, just to shut you gaggles, I'm taking time during my second playthrough over the next couple of weeks to tally up all the supporting cast, male and female, and see how many are portrayed in a positive or negative light.

I'm writing these up as I encounter them, so based on my game route I may miss some. Deal with it. Some degree of subjectivity is inevitable, though I'll do my best to reference Deadfire's own dialogues and descriptions.


Some basic rules:

Any minor character counts, which is to say any character with a name and/or some kind of personality or onscreen interaction, even if short and shallow.
Nameless redshirts you mow down on the field don't count here, though some random encounters and bosses with observable characteristics might.
Vendors and tavern keepers generally don't (taking your money doesn't tell you much about them) unless they, again, play some bit part in a quest.
Party members are also addressed only in isolated interactions for each location i.e. their recruitment event or behavior during a quest.
Skipping interludes with gods and goddesses.

"Positive" blue characters are either good (justified in their actions (even wrong actions) in some implicit or explicit way or allowed to morally slam others) and/or dignified which is to say good at their job, display courage under fire, respected in their community, able to stand their ground in an argument, etc.

"Negative" red characters may be evil (villains, lowlifes, scoundrels by the general definition of society at large) without being allotted moral justifications for their evil actions, and/or losers: weak, incompetent, sniveling, drunks, deadbeats, cowards, despised and denigrated by others with impunity, etc.

"Neutral" black text names generally break even, blend the two. A character may be portrayed as competent but selfish, pathetic but helpful, condemned by others but actually in the right, and so on. Alternately, being minor episodic roles, some are just too bland to characterize or don't really interact with others during their appearance.

Note: the explicit on-screen interactions weigh much more heavily than any implied characteristics. The whole point is to assess how Obsidian wants us to view characters of both sexes, how the writing team painted them, not just how we view dwarf / elf culture or whatever. Whom are we being programmed to hate?

Obsidian's main trick throughout the game is to juxtapose a positive female with a negative male, thereby emphasizing the female's superiority, so wherever this fits I'll try to list them as pairs.

So it begins:


Maje Island

Benweth (m) - obviously intended as a completely unambiguous villain. Not only did he directly attack you and insult your ship to boot, but he's a sadistic, reckless, greedy, stupid, lazy, power-hungry, power-mad, every-deadly-sinning pirate according to everyone you meet. A "limp-cocked nut-twist" according to Serafen. Naturally a white male, presumably straight.

Eld Engrim (m) - pathetic old drunk in your crew paired up with the adorable plucky young orlan orphan Vela (f) - amusingly, despite being an obvious clown, Eld Engrim's allowed a halfway positive characterization as a lovable old curmudgeon in his role as babysitter, rendering service to a female. Everybody loves Vela.

Beodul (m) - helpless, trapped in cave afraid to move past traps
vs.
Irrena (f) - sassy, bravely gritting her teeth through her broken leg, openly ridicules Beodul after they're both saved - "was he crying"

Galian (m) - drunk deadbeat guest at inn
vs.
Thorel (m) - innkeeper, a whiny fatass with a dopey voice, but at least he's a nice whiny fatass with a dopey voice.

Rinco (m) - a lying, sniveling card player presumably dependent on his serious, professional wife
vs.
Mokeha (f) - native, beats Rinco to a pulp because he's a sore loser who insults her noble savagery
Let's review: Mokeha responds to insults with grievous bodily harm and robbery, something which (legality aside) would immediately get branded as "toxic masculinity" by a modern audience if she'd been male and would be unthinkably villainous if she'd been male and Rinco female, no matter what insults the female throws at the male.
As a feminist ideal of a strong woman, she's of course immune to judgment. Forget beating her in retribution - if you even try to intimidate her into coming back to own her crime, her entire village including Ikawha the overpowered spellcaster turn hostile and, given you're level 3-ish with an incomplete party by that point, instantly curb-stomp you in the first round of combat. Learned your lesson? Never try to make a woman take responsibility for her own actions.
So, in truth, your only options are to either side with the brutish thug Mokeha or whine to her and insult Rinco, her victim, to butter her up to at least get Rinco's money back.
Wow. Nice roleplaying "choices" there.
Bonus feminist points as Rinco's only acceptable worth during this whole argument is instrumental, as provider for his family, not as an individual with an intrinsic right not to be so savagely beaten that he becomes bedridden for spouting a few angry words over a card game.

Savia (f) - sympathetically overworked local sheriff
vs.
Rum-Dumb Riggere (m) her drunken prisoner. Do I need to explain this one? Even ignoring the word "dumb" right in the male character's name, their dialogue is laid on very thick
also Savia vs. Ilari (m) whom she sends you to subdue, a thug and looter and even literally a whiner when you attack him.

Waenglith (f) - Eothasian priestess. Meh, call her neutral, her main interaction is with another female, Xoti, whose heroic calling she fails to acknowledge, though she is also given a male redshirt to smear with hot wax while he whines pitifully. Kinky.

Governor Clario (m) & Captain Darmo (m) - largely neutral disinterested professionals, though Clario being more interested in the animancers' results than their lives is obviously intended to make us dislike him. You're even allowed to rat his motivations out to Benessa (f) so she and the other old female animancer at the digsite can loudly voice their disdain for him... regardless of the fact that whatever his motivations, he did wind up sending them a rescue party.
vs.: Ikawha and Benessa below

Storm Speaker Ikawha (f) - noble, dignified leader of the local tribe, a force of nature, savior of the island, savior of your ship, very put-upon by the demands of Clario, the (male) foreign colony leader... three sentences into her dialogue and you're practically blinded by her halo; she's almost as bad as the queen.

Benessa (f) - leader of the surviving animancers at the dig site after her (male) boss conveniently got himself killed "she looks to be only midway into her thirties, though the serious set of her mouth makes her seem older"
vs.
"Engferth" or rather your old buddy Aloth (m) who screwed up a first-level spell and set fire to some tents instead of chasing away the encroaching wildlife. Apparently despite his spellcasting having been a match for several dragons and not one but two archmagi in the original campaign, he still has to play his nebbish role as the butt of jokes in this one.
If you reveal his identity, Aloth gets browbeaten for working under an assumed name and is banished from their company, barely able to meet Benessa's eyes for his shame. You get no option to stick up for him or tell the retarded bitch off for getting pissy about her lab assistant's secret identity as a famous hero who's unravelled more mysterious ancient magitek than she's washed beakers. He hurt her fee-fees by not telling her his life story. Never mind his actions alongside you in Defiance Bay likely saved her entire profession from defamation and outlaw status, against his better judgment.

Old Druid (m) - a.k.a. map encounter guy with boar herd - somewhat hostile, but also relatively dignified, competent in his chosen profession, a Noble Savage presumably defending his homeland from yadda-yadda. Helped my fellow druid out in my first playthrough. So yeah, finally, there's a positive male character. All you have to be is a primitive backwoods ignoramus smeared in pig shit and you're golden.

Captain Furrante (m) vs. Serafen (m) - interestingly, their first showing is fairly neutral. Later on, Serafen the tribal native becomes a principled, heroic survivor with a tragic past while Furrante's refined Old World mannerisms doom him as a villain to be deposed, but for now Serafen's just a trash-talking underling and Furrante offers you a chance at revenge against the pirate who stranded you on Maje Island. The difference only becomes apparent once Aeldys (f) comes into play. Furrante is against her, therefore bad.

Next stop: Neketaka!

Monday, May 28, 2018

The Jain's Death

Jainism is insane. It's so insane it makes even regular insanity sound sane by comparison. When you hear about people wearing cloth masks over their mouths their whole lives because they're afraid to accidentally eat a bug, you might reasonably assume an unwarranted phobia of such critters. But noooo, the Jains have to go one better. It's because they adore the little darlings too much to risk hurting them!

However, insanity can make for good reading. The Jain's Death is a very short 60-panel comic about... well, shit, the title covers about half and any more would be spoiling it. Suffice it to say the mindset of absolutist ahimsa will be so alien to most readers as to provide a quick but entertainingly novel spin on a well-traveled concept. What karmic banking lacks in violence it certainly makes up for in self-righteousness and nitpicking. By the last line of dialogue, not even the Rod Serling twist you might think is coming will be the real one.

Even if you don't agree with the mentality (I certainly don't) this was a well-executed story.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Easy cognition, easy morality, Obsidian style


"And what will that leave, that Third World insanity? Will that put an end to all life, of every kind, everywhere? When our planet becomes a dead planet, by our own hands?
He could not believe that. Even if all life on our planet is destroyed, there must be other life somewhere which we know nothing of. It is impossible that ours is the only world; there must be world after world unseen by us, in some region or dimension that we simply do not perceive.
[...]
The terrible dilemma of our lives. Whatever happens, it is evil beyond compare. Why struggle, then? Why choose? If all alternatives are the same.
[...]
We do not have the ideal world, such as we would like, where morality is easy because cognition is easy. Where one can do right with no effort because he can detect the obvious."

Philip K. Dick - The Man in the High Castle

_______________________________
Major end-game spoilers for Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire
_______________________________

One of the many problems with fanaticism aside from the active harm it causes is that like physical substance addiction it tends to take over one's entire thought pattern. The addictive self-righteousness of constantly proclaiming your holier-than-thou adherence to the one true faith tends to eclipse other, more mundane considerations... like the quality of your work.

In the world of cRPGs, this came out in a big way with Siege of Dragonspear, by most accounts a parasitic hijacking of a classic game series by shameless profiteers. Quite a few dissatisfied customers complained about the game's shallow, utterly gratuitous social justice activism. Fine, whatever. The more interesting reviews came from those with the wherewithal to note that Dragonspear also lacked any relevant qualities as a game, that it was a completely buggy mess missing entire sections of its promised functionality, riddled with terrible interface and other design choices, a linear series of 10x10foot rooms with no meaningful roleplaying choices, forgettable characters and total content amounting to other games' last act. Regardless of what you think of political correctness, the more immediate issue was the design team hiding their incompetence and laziness behind said correctness. It's Beamdog's glaring assumption that they shouldn't need anything besides proselytizing to sell their shoddy product.

Glad I dodged that bullet. Unfortunately, Obsidian's Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire seems to suffer from a smaller degree of the same problem. Unlike Dragonspear's reputation, Deadfire's actually rather promising from an abstract game design standpoint but its writing has obviously suffered compared to PoE1. For a Role-Playing Game, especially a story-based one, this is not to be shrugged off.
This is how I chose to end my first playthrough. As in the first game, you end by making a monumental decision by siding with one of several deities who embody various philosophical or sociopolitical ideals. This decision is said to affect the fate of the world, and in my case I went with the god representing the heat death of the universe... with somewhat predictable results. I'd picked Rymrgand's option to grind baby souls to dust at the end of the first game so what the hey, I thought I'd go for an encore in the sequel, for consistency's sake. That, and Deadfire's shallow storytelling and nonstop wall-to-wall misandry had me about ready to end that world anyway. Yet when my character tries to explain that choice, those are my only two options? "I just hate life" and a valid but still shallow claim of nihilism?

The intellectual depth of the gods from the first game, their philosophical overlap, seems to have completely vanished. Rymrgand was a god of death, finality, entropy, decay, yet this did not necessarily mean a straightforward apocalypse, much less a petulant "let's blow up the world" one-liner. In fact the quest to gain his favor in the first game dealt with a population of elves desperate to escape Samsara and find peace in one-ness with the universe. Where is that aspect of Rymrgand worship now? How does Obsidian's anti-white, anti-male rainbow-sprinkle politically correct gibberish mesh with insulting one of the core beliefs of half a billion Buddhists? (Plus quite a few Hindus as I understand it.)

Compare that truncated, simpleminded, peevish two-line denigration of nihilism above with this discussion of Rymrgand's philosophy from PoE1:
Rymrgand grinds worlds to dust but he does so when it suits him, gradually, painstakingly, inevitably. In itself, this might've made an excellent plot hook for a canonical transition to a third PoE game. Set it in a world gradually fading as entropy grips the veins of Eora, a barely perceptible apocalypse with societies struggling to hold themselves together in the face of dwindling birth rates and natural resources. Mad Max with dragons and magic wands.
Be honest with yourself. You would play the shit out of that.

Or take the supporting arguments provided by Ondra and Skaen above. Maybe an act of destruction merely prevents a greater evil, an eternity of slavery to the Queen that Was. Maybe disintegration prevents the rise of abominations and the greater misery which pretty routinely cropped up in PoE1 when souls were misplaced. There is such a thing as a fate worse than death. Maybe a fallow season is needed to enrich the soil for new growth. Maybe we need a scorched earth strategy to stop an enemy on the cusp of victory.
Where are those arguments now, that nuance, in Obsidian's reinvented Eora?

Or was all that consideration TL:DR maybe?
Is this just a matter of cutting the length of in-game text?
Hardly. Compare the almost identical length of dialogue I screenshotted for my last post about Deadfire, dealing with firing one petty bureaucrat of one trade company. You don't think the fate of the world warrants at least that much consideration?
But of course that wasn't just about firing the (male) trading company representative, but replacing him with his (female) second in command, a repeating pattern throughout your adventures. When it came to justifying their anti-male chauvinism, Obsidian saw no problem with filling page after page with very detailed, passionate and well-supported reasons why almost every man you meet just happens to be either stupid or evil or both, and juxtaposing them with glorified saintly women. No amount of "boys stink, girls rule" was too much.

Note this was done while most side-quests utterly lack any sort of roleplaying choices. Labyrinths, cannibal shipwreck survivors, the vampire lord of an entire island, the secret of teleportation, murderously xenophobic Noble Savages, hell, even the fate of the world; Deadfire's littered with material which should have been better integrated into player decision-making, or at least padded with more justifications.
Why, instead of fleshing out the number or moral depth of choices made by the player, was so much energy reserved instead for propping up the pedestal of femininity?
Because you just hate men. All of them.
Your self-justifying postmodern absolutist moral relativism, your fanaticism, your narcissism seemed more important to you than the actual quality of your storytelling.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Yeerkwads

"'It's a parasite; it's capable of attaching itself to a host, such as a man, and controlling the host. It is almost certainly extra-terrestrial in origin and metabolism.
The lab boss sniffed. 'Extra-terrestrial parasite on a terrestrial host? Ridiculous! The body chemistries would be incompatible.'"

Robert A. Heinlein - The Puppet Masters


Infuriating that of Heinlein's three best known works, two are among his worst written. Along with Starship Troopers, The Puppet Masters recalls the few times he allowed himself to slip from measured, self-aware individualism to rambling chest-thumping jingoism. It dates from 1951, a ripe time for tales of insidious aliens masquerading as real people, thinly disguised morality plays about the subversion of holy capitalism by those damn dirty communists! This was the heyday of the red scare, with Grand Inquisitor McCarthy turning up the heat on the anti-communist paranoia simmering through the previous several decades. That same year, John W. Campbell's 1938 Who Goes There was dredged up and adapted into a movie, before it became "The Thing" years on. It only took a couple of years for the likes of Philip K. Dick and Ray Bradbury to come out with their own alien doppelganger tales (though really, for Dick this sort of paranoia was to be expected.) From then on the "pod people" trope was set in stone as a pop scifi staple.

1951 also happens to be two or three years before the discovery of the structure of DNA. Yet both Campbell in 1938 and Heinlein in 1951 made sure to at least note the implausibility of compatible metabolic/pathogenic processes across planets. The sheer complexity of life in its levels upon levels of organization lends even minute differences the potential for sweeping effects. A single mutation in the nearly four thousand base pairs comprising the hemoglobin gene yields sickle cell, and throws a wrench in the plans of one P. falciparum of sanguine bent. How close a match do you think you'll get between organisms which didn't even evolve using the same genetic code? If an alien parasite found you, it wouldn't know which end to start nibbling.

Science Fiction's golden age came with the resurgence of "hard" SF in the 1940s and 50s. That'd be when Heinlein went as far as to dedicate a couple of paragraphs every other chapter to the arithmetic of interstellar distances... in a young adult novel... and the young adults ate it up! The Puppet Masters is more pulpy, somewhat disjointed, with awkwardly interposed gratuitous sex references and repeated pointless digressions into glorifying the brainwashed murderers employed by the establishment. However, it still paid more attention to the science of its fiction than any of its endless "pod people" copycats through the decades. As after the Verne / Wells era, Science Fiction went slowly into decline, and we are now once again in a 1920s/30s mass-appeal phase. The SciFi Syffy channel specializes in bargain bin monster flicks of such "quality" as would've made Abbott and Costello roll their eyes in disdain. Our two best known SF franchises are both movies: Star Trek and Star Wars. Both were past their prime two decades ago. One has degraded from a Utopian tale of exploration and discovery to a militaristic Action RPG. The other was never more than science fantasy to begin with, a continuation of the planetary romances of SF's dark ages.

I would not want to live in the 1940s but then again neither did most of the people of the '40s. If nothing else, maybe this at least rendered them more capable of looking forward than we are now, still mired in messianic black hat / white hat heroism and narcissistic, myopic social justice tracts masquerading as futurism.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Today, I re-potted my cactus. So there, if that's not a life-affirming symbol of continuity, I don't know what is.
...
Unless it dies, of course.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Hecate bobs her hair

"But when we contrast the state of man in the opening of the twentieth century with the condition of any previous period in his history, then perhaps we may begin to understand something of that blind confidence. It was not so much a reasoned confidence as the inevitable consequence of sustained good fortune. By such standards as they possessed, things HAD gone amazingly well for them. It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that for the first time in history whole populations found themselves supplied with more than enough to eat, and the vital statistics of the time witness to an amelioration of hygienic conditions rapid beyond all precedent, and to a vast development of intelligence and ability in all the arts that make life wholesome. The level and quality of the average education had risen tremendously; and at the dawn of the twentieth century comparatively few people in Western Europe or America were unable to read or write. Never before had there been such reading masses.
[...]
The precedents of history were all one tale of the collapse of civilisations, the dangers of the time were manifest. One is incredulous now to believe they could not see."

H.G. Wells - The War in the Air
_______________________________________________

"Hey, brother, what ya thinking?
Leave that old record spinning

That good old sound is ringing
They don't know what they're missing"

Caravan Palace - Lone Digger
_______________________________________________

"Could've been a passing thing
Just a little boom-boom-bang
But we keep going again
And going again!"

Earl - Tongue Tied
_______________________________________________

War.
War never changes. (Hey, guess what classic cRPG Werwolfe is currently re-playing?)
At the dawn of the twentieth century, war loomed inevitable in the minds of many willing to acknowledge such inevitabilities. Most were unwilling. War came, and went, and was declared obsolete. Everything was better forever for a decade or two. Most, faced with declining hopes, only sought to re-affirm their standard of living. It was the roaring twenties, the prohibition era when everyone was drunker than ever, when a crisis of overproduction was addressed by increasing production.

We know better than that now. We buy excess food and burn it. I find it entirely fitting that swing music should begin to make a comeback. The Cold War is decades past. As in the interbellum, half the masses of the developed world throw themselves into a forced frivolity while the other half embrace nationalism, fundamentalism and conservatism to their logical conclusion of fascism. Half the public thinks inventing new personal pronouns will solve the world's ills while the other half is practicing their swastikas. Oh, it's all intersectional. The world would be so much better without those straight white males, wouldn't it? I hear they drink baby blood. #finalsolution? Me Too!

So you gotta swing, swing, swing like it don't mean a thing my flappers and dappers, queens of the ring cycle gotterdameragnarockandrollit. Skidoo, skidoo, while the world spins beneath you. When the truth can no longer be kept quiet beneath your crinoline, drown it out in a trumpet-blast of heel-clicking. Victorian heads couched in faint mores belong in the sands of time.

It's two minutes to midnight.
Pumpkin time, Cindy.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Surviving Mars

Y'know those strange games which seem to do so much right that you're actually surprised when you find yourself not fully enjoying them?
Surviving Mars is one of those games.
Like resource acquisition and base-building? Then allow me to extend you a bubbly welcome to the bubble red bubble planet of bubbles. To go along with the by now canonical SciFi image of transparent habitation domes, the overall aesthetic of human structures adopts a sleek, airy, futuristic architecture of soft curves and suspended platforms, something between Star Trek and The Jetsons. Even your drones and shuttles look like Wall-E extras.

It works well enough in itself. Those apartment complexes, mines and factories look like interesting, engaging places to live and work. Unfortunately this safe, cozy rotundity is neither taken to its logical, space-age extreme of floating rings and laser lights nor offset by any other game elements. The writing, as I complained, leaves a lot to be desired in its blandness, and further hobbles itself through pedantry:
Seriously? "Alcohol is not the answer?" Was this thing co-written by Betty Ford and Barbara Bush?

The music deserves special mention, as Surviving Mars pays due attention to this oft-neglected aspect in post-Y2K games. In addition to a standard light techno background music soundtrack we'd expect from such a title, it provides three in-universe "radio" stations with different themes. Unfortunately, two of those three themes are surfer music and a country medley that would've better served Sim Farm. It's all actually rather inspired and even justifiable. Of course your colonists choking on red dust would be nostalgic for blue waves, and all that lively banjo strumming supports the general constructive atmosphere of the game. Still, I can't imagine much crossover between science fiction fans and "fun in the sun" surfer ditties. Something besides easy listening would've been quite welcome. Whatever happened to blasting Strauss' Thus Spake Zarathustra as the sun crests the horizon?

Unfortunatelier, those radio stations are deejayed by some of the most annoyingly bland, forced, artificially relatable personalities imaginable, enough to make you minimize the game whenever one of their inane little interludes intrudes on your brooding over the latest impending disaster. In addition to their grating bonhomie, their monologues run a very narrow gamut of presumably safe topics from baseball to kebabs to cultural inclusivity. With that, the whole rest of the game's aesthetic is thrown into a new perspective, not just smoothed and sleek and awkwardly restrained, but padded and kid-safe.
Pablum.

Which is a pity, because Surviving Mars is actually a surprisingly challenging and involved game. While it may be marketed as a city simulator, placing apartment blocks and factories comprises barely half the action. Each playable space agency has a slightly different style. Europe, for instance, thrives on research. From the very start, choosing your map involves balancing natural disasters with resource availability. Then comes scouting out your initial landing site and cobbling together a sufficient pile of resources using automated drones and building a life support network before you can even put up your first habitation dome. This robotic aspect continues throughout the game as you keep rocketing precious metals back to Earth and returning with whatever processed goods your colony lacks, all while constantly scouring the map beyond your domes for spare metal and research bonuses.

Take just one possible event and its many outcomes. Wherever a meteor hits it might: break machinery, puncture a dome, disable vehicles, leave behind a small chunk of metal or polymer or even spawn an "anomaly" to be explored for research. Other disasters are less forgiving. I had a very promising colony completely wiped out by an unusually long 6+ day cold wave.

To spice things up further, you're given one "mystery" or randomizable challenge, each run. As with the aesthetics, this can be a mixed bag, quickly descending into annoyance at feeling railroaded, forced to trudge through a specific scenario before you've even had a chance to grow your colony. After it ends, there seems little point in continuing to play. It both cuts into the sandbox appeal of city building in the short term and undermines its continued appeal in the long run. Building domes becomes, after a while, very repetitive as your citizens demand the same creature comforts in each.

Despite Surviving Mars' various high points, it feels hopelessly restricted. Again, it's a pity. This is a professionally made product. It plays smoothly, provides both a fair array of options and challenges, addresses all the necessary bells and whistles... but does so in an unnecessarily self-restrained fashion. Upon trying to quit, you're greeted by the old joke from Alpha Centauri:
Except Alpha Centauri dared to use as its inspiration some of the most daring, spine-chilling, nail-biting of major SF literature, and its gameplay options reflected this. You could be an iron-fisted dictator nerve-gassing your enemies into submission and sinking entire continents. Surviving Mars is like a cheap TV-grade Star Trek script inspired by those much better stories, and despite some engrossing resource management its ultimate lack of scope should make its creators ashamed to quote such a classic.