Dads Effect 2 Oops I Mean Mass Effect 2 Lol Not Sure What Happened There

I finished Mass Effect 2 this weekend. I was really looking forward to it after liking the first one well enough, and everyone told me this one was the best of the trilogy. So when I was having trouble getting into it, I got a little disappointed and frustrated.

I had trouble getting into the first one too, so I shouldn’t have been too surprised. Part of it is that I just don’t find the Mass Effect world to be that interesting. It’s very blandly generic sci-fi, like Babylon 5. The alien races aren’t anything special, and of course, humans can always teach them a thing or two about everything.

But I speak from a position of ignorance, because I didn’t play the game right. To really find out the compelling story behind everyone in the game you have to talk to them until you run out of dialog options and also read all the text pieces in your codex. Then you’ll appreciate the world-building that went on behind the scenes. Maybe, but I’d prefer if it went on in front of the scenes. For example, one of the few interesting alien things was the bit about the Krogan genophage. I didn’t find out about this by reading the codex and chitchatting with everyone, I found out about it because there were missions that involved it. So my knowledge of it developed organically while doing other things rather than pausing the game to get an infodump on this element. That’s how I like this sort of thing to happen in a game.

The other way I didn’t play the game right was that I didn’t get all chummy with the NPCs. I guess it’s coded so that you can have romances and stuff with the other characters but boy could I not care less, what with the fate of the galaxy at stake and all. I barely enjoy talking to real life flesh-and-blood people I’ve known for years, much less computer people I met last week whose main job is to soak up laser damage. If I want to play a dating sim, I’ll play one. In the meantime I’d like to go on missions shooting evil bug robots or what have you.

I did talk to everyone enough to get their personal missions, which was a parade of dads. Nearly every one involved either that person’s dad or that person’s son (one exception is the Asari’s — I don’t even remember her name because who actually cares about her — but their entire race is female so it’s still pretty dad). If they didn’t have a dad they had a person or place who created them that they had to go deal with before they could focus on the mission at hand and wear a different outfit. There are ten such companions and I can only think of three of them that don’t follow this pattern. How do you write out seven different missions and not notice that you’ve used a father-son thing in each one of them (usually to no particular effect)?

I don’t know why it bugs me in Mass Effect, as similar dumb missions and characters I don’t care about appear in games I love, such as Fallout 3. I suppose part of it is that, unlike Fallout 3, the character who is “me”, Shepard, is also boring as a pile of cold washrags. She (mine is a she) isn’t interesting, but she also doesn’t fade into the background like in Fallout 3 so that you can sort of lay your own interpretation on top of her. She’s intrusively dull. Caring which of the Daddy crew gets to smooch on her would be like being genuinely invested in who wins America’s Next Top Model.

This emphasis on personal missions and stuff also takes a whole lot of the urgency out of the main mission. It’s really hard to believe that the Collectors are a genuine threat to humanity when no one has a problem with heading off to Bumfuckicron Omega because Jack just can’t even deal. If the game acknowledged and had fun with this it would be okay, but that would mean some kind of humor would have slipped in. Or if, as in (again) Fallout 3, the Collectors were a threat you only gradually find out about as you do other things, that would make a little more sense. But when Cerberus, which supposedly has tons of agents out there, sends their top man to leave the “save the galaxy” mission and go retrieve some stolen cargo, it’s just too much.

When I was running around and shooting things ME2 was fun enough, though it was pretty clear that that portion of the game was not the priority. I barely used anything except the assault rifle and the particle beam, went with disruptors for robots and fire for everyone else, had very little difficulty with any of the enemies, and noticed no difference whatsoever in which squad members I took with me.

I’ll move on to ME3 eventually and finish the series out, but there’s just nothing there for me to really hang on to.

Posted in Videogames | Tagged , ,

I Had That! #12: Star Trek Mego Dolls

If you were a science fictiony nerd and it wasn’t yet 1977, Star Trek was your jam. You kids with your Farscapes and your Fireflys and your Battlestars — Galactica and otherwise — can’t imagine what it was like when there was one show on TV with aliens and robots, and since it was syndicated there was no telling what time it was on, if at all. Liking Star Trek wasn’t really about passion for Star Trek, necessarily, it was just sort of recognizing that it was the biggest (and largely only) game in town. I was a Star Trek “fan” because I liked the idea of spaceships and lasers and stuff, an that happened to be the most convenient vector for such things.

I watched the show, more or less, but doing so meant watching it on the TV in my parents’ bedroom, which was black and white. While watching TV in a place other than the living room was preferable (especially when watching something my parents weren’t into), even then I didn’t have much patience for or interest in black-and-white TV. Plus, Star Trek was…and I’m sorry, but it’s true…boring. A lot of times they just stood around talking, and while that built the characterizations that solidified it for older viewers, to an eight-year-old that meant that aliens weren’t getting shot with phasers, and I could see that on any other channel.

There were episodes I loved, and they’re the ones you’d expect, but there were a couple that scared the bejezus out of me, like “The Doomsday Machine” and “Catspaw”. But by and large, watching Star Trek, for me, was like going to church, for most Catholics. It’s what you did as part of the community, and not a lot of thought was put into it.

I don’t remember what the first of the Star Trek Mego figures I got was, but I remember getting them mostly when I was at my aunt’s house in Vidalia, Louisiana, where we spent many summers. They were well and truly dolls, as the “action figure” term hadn’t been invented yet, and they pretty much looked and acted like dolls. One of them, Spock perhaps, had a deformed hand from when a puppy got hold of it. I didn’t have the harder to find later ones, just the main series. I even had the Starship Enterprise play set/carrying case, which was a pretty neat bit of design. I know I must have played with these guys, and I imagine the Klingon got mighty tired of being the only one to get beat up, but I don’t have any memories of that.

Once Star Wars came out, Star Trek just had no chance with me. To this day, while I certainly respect Star Trek, it doesn’t hold any special interest for me.

When did I get it? These came out in 1974, but I probably got them around 1975 or 1976.

Do I still have it? Nope, and I have no idea what happened to them or when it happened.

Posted in Toys | Tagged ,

This Delicious Week

Shared bookmarks for delicious user

Posted in Delicious

Five Songs: Fleet Foxes, Tiamat, Dance for the Dying, Paradise Lost, Bastille

Way back in October I asked folks here, on Twitter, and on Facebook, to supply me with five songs they want me to listen to. I dutifully collected the lists and then ignored them for months. A couple of people kept asking me about it, and I even said at one point it wasn’t going to happen, but I’m in a better place now. So I picked one set of the songs and fired them up.

Our first set comes from my pal Eric, who I game with. Having seen Eric’s t-shirts and been to his house, I know he’s largely into what I’d call “Death Metal” though it probably has a more accurate name. I say that, though plenty of times when over there he’s had music going that I liked and wouldn’t call that.

Let’s see what Eric served up for my ears!

The first song is “Ragged Wood” by Fleet Foxes. I don’t think I know this song, though I’m pretty sure I’ve heard the band on NPR. This isn’t a bad song, but it’s a sound I’m kind of tired of, this earnest sort of banjoey Americana sound. I don’t know for sure but I’m gonna say there are at least five people in this band and at least seven beards. Most importantly, this is not the sort of thing I’d expect coming from Eric, so we’re off to a surprising start!

Song number two is “Vote For Love” by Tiamat. My first note for this song is “Xymox”, and you’ll have to get used to me comparing these songs to bands nobody but me even remembers anymore. It’s also not accurate, as it’s far less keyboardy than Xymox. I liked this one okay but honestly it just gets a little too goofy for me to really get into.

Number three is “El Monstro” by Dance for the Dying and Eric’s choice of video for this is a Rock Band performance with him on vocals. I gotta say, Eric’s singing voice is way different than I would ever have thought. Nice pipes there! This song was a lot of fun, and I could see me listening to it regularly. Also it would KILL me on Rock Band.

The fourth song is “Soul Courageous” by Paradise Lost, which I thought was great. Having been a big goth in college (not really) who dig Sisters of Mercy and Fields of the Nephilim (really), this totally took me back to those days, without just simply aping those bands. A lot of fun, this one!

And finally, there’s “Pompeii” by Bastille. Eric choose an acoustic version of the song for the video, which I thought was okay, but I suspected I’d like the original version more, so I checked it out. Sure enough, I liked it better as a big wide anthemic song, but if you knew that one first I can see where the stripped down version would have its charm. I originally liked how interestingly mixed the song was, but then I realized my headphones weren’t plugged in all the way, which was giving that effect.

Out of the five songs, I think Bastille’s is my favorite, and I’ll probably check out more from them. They have the sort of sound I’m gravitating towards these days (Last album I bought was from CHVRCHES), and I’d like to hear more.

Thanks, Eric, for providing this list and giving me a nice variety of stuff to listen to! I’m sorry it took me so long to get around to it!

Posted in Music | Tagged

Have I Ranted About Nerds Yet This Year? I Have? Oh Well.

Once again it’s time to tell the men of the Internet not to threaten to rape and murder people. You’d think that this only needs to be said a few times, if at all, but nope, the message still hasn’t gotten through.

What are men threatening rape over this time? A woman felt a comic book cover was executed poorly. In doing so, she also had the audacity to tell a man how breasts work, as if simply walking around with a pair of them gave her any kind of authority on the matter. Still, a woman spoke slightly negatively about some nerd thing and sure enough the rape comments followed.

Here’s an article on Comics Alliance about the whole idiotic mess. Surprising no one, I have a few things to say about this.

Here’s an excerpt from that article:

Unfortunately the comics discourse remains extremely dire in most spaces, particularly in the ineffectively moderated message boards of the Internet. In a comments thread nearly 600 posts long (as of this writing), Janelle’s innocuous piece inspired all manner of questions beyond the content of her article: suspicion as to her “true” motives, speculation about past professional and personal relationships, accusations of political agendas, and outright sexist hatred.

Really, that kind of crap is in the comment thread? Why? Why are we just leaving it to fester there? The article goes on to say that we all have to take responsibility in calling out behavior that furthers this, but the behavior of providing a space for misogynistic trolls to vent their spleens without anyone telling them to take it elsewhere, that we don’t need to call out. We already know not to read the comments anywhere, so why even have them? You can’t say you want to improve Internet discourse and also run an unmoderated anonymous comments section. The two are not compatible.

But since these are commercial sites, that discussion is moot. (The author of that post, in a tweet to someone else, said that if he owned CA, it wouldn’t have comments, but he doesn’t, so it does.) Despite the well-deserved reputation of comment sections they’re still considered mandatory on advertising-based sites, as they drive page views.

But the other, darker problem, is that when it comes to comics and videogames and such, these loathsome trolls aren’t invaders who’ve come in to spoil everyone’s fun; they’re the audience. They’re not there because they heard a woman was getting lippy and needed a talking to, they’re there because they’re the regular patrons. We don’t like these crude, sexist assholes, but we really need them to look at this gallery of Captain America toys so we get paid.

Here’s a current “Top Commenter” on that article:

Another “Top Commenter” is currently concerned about that perennial MRA bugbear, false rape accusations. I’m aware that “Top Commenter” probably means quantity more than quality but again, the comments section is apparently a welcoming home for these people, regardless of what the articles above them say. They certainly haven’t been made too uncomfortable to post this kind of garbage by the community.

An this is not just this site, or comics, this is the nerd world in general. At any moment there are several discussions over on BGG in which some white guy is worried about feminazis stealing his Precious Bodily Fluids. I don’t need to tell you about the videogame world. This happens so often in nerd-dom that it’s fair to ask if it’s an essential part of it.

So let’s bring this around to my usual stomping grounds: the problem is, when it comes to nerd audiences, you are expecting thoughtful behavior from an audience which is regularly encouraged not to think. Current nerd culture, despite what Wil Wheaton thinks, is not about intellectual curiosity, it is about mindless consumption. It’s “turn off your brain”, it’s “I liked it for what it was”, it’s “not as bad as I was expecting”, it’s “shut up and take my money”. It is specifically designed to avoid any kind of serious thought, and that goes double for one’s own actions. You cannot pander to that audience and then expect thoughtful reactions. As I’ve said before on this subject, you can’t regularly serve dog food and then wonder why all these dogs keep showing up.

And that’s not just on these discussion sites, that’s on creators and producers as well. As long as you keep offering a world in which young white straight men are the center of the universe, in which balloon-bodied women exist solely as eye candy (that occasionally kicks someone because “strong”), in which sarcastic nihilistic assholes are the heroes, then you can’t be shocked when these boneheads make up your audience. You keep giving loud and proud asshole creators like Frank Miller, Dave Sim, Orson Scott Card, and others regular work because they move units. Creators who have been accused of all sorts of misconduct get a bye if their books are well-liked (does anyone remember who the big name writer was a few months ago whose name came up?). Bonehead money spends just like any other.

Why do misogynistic trolls feel safe and comfortable in the nerd world? Because it’s built for them. They scream when a woman rolls her eyes at ridiculous tits because by god those ridiculous tits are FOR THEM and how dare anyone think to deny them the ridiculous tits that they have coming to them. If nerd companies honestly don’t want these assholes around they should have no problem alienating them and telling them to get lost, that they’re not wanted. They’ve certainly gotten a lot of practice doing that to everyone else.

Posted in Geek Stuff | Tagged

This is What Passes for Political Engagement in America

This is a friend of a friend, talking about that Nevada Rancher nonsense.

“It’s called Civil Disobedience, and it’s protected under the law.”

Posted in Argh! | Tagged ,

If a Game Doesn’t Let You Adjust Blade Tang on Swordsman Units, Is It Really a Civilization Game?

The game I have been playing lately on the iPad is Civilization Revolution. This is a big honkin’ deal for me.

Back in college, I gave the original Civilization computer game a spin, but I was terrible at it. Once I got more than three cities I had a hard time keeping track of them. I’d forget about a city and discover them centuries later, their houses overflowing with canoes because I’d never ordered them to make anything else. Simulations in general I have a tough time with, as there’s only so much micromanagement I can do before I feel like I should have a health plan and 401(k) with this. The last simulation game I was halfway competent at was SimCity 2000, and do you know how long ago it came out? Hint: the title is misleading.

So I grabbed Civ Rev on sale with some trepidation. The other day I decided to dig into it and discovered, hey, I can actually play this! It’s streamlined and dumbed down so I can handle it. I can even keep track of multiple cities, though sometimes I don’t know what I want a city to do so I have them work on something dumb until I need a different thing.

I played twice in a row and won pretty solidly, though I was playing on ickle babby level. After one more time on the easiest setting (to finally understand some of the controls), I plunged into toddler level. I noticed the increased difficulty right away (especially when the AI players decided to try and prevent my victory) but still won.For my next game I plan to jump up another difficulty level.

So far I’ve had two cultural victories, a technological victory, and an economic victory, so the next part may seem like an odd complaint, but it’s something that bugs me about civilization games in general (mostly board games). For too many designers, “civilization” means “history of warfare”. I get that war is a big part of history. But it’s not exclusive. Too many civ games are, essentially, The Great Wars of History and Also Some Grain and Monuments. If you’re a gamer who doesn’t get a stiff one when thinking about war, there are few “civilization” games to interest you.

Civ Rev mitigates this somewhat. As I say, I have so far won with non-military victories. It’s also cool that if your nation gets cultured or technologically advanced enough, other cities will join you without shedding any blood. It’s how my Aztecs ended up with Minsk and Munich. So that’s nice. Nevertheless, although there’s only a single “Library” or “Market” you construct, there are umpty-thrillion military units you can build, and many technological advances, despite having tons of other theoretical uses, do nothing except give you a better military unit. I really don’t care about the differences between horsemen, pikemen, and knights; they’re all “soldiers” to me.

As I say, I get that conflict is going to happen. But if I want to play a wargame, I’ll play a wargame. I don’t want to play a wargame.

But anyhow, Civ Rev is a delight to play on the iPad. The controls are pretty good, and it’s fairly easy to see what’s going on. Apparently other versions of the game have a “Civopedia” that goes into more detail about the technologies and such, but if the iPad version has that, I haven’t found it. It would be nice if the tech tree gave you a little more info instead of wee tiny icons. Part of the reason I’ve played so much on the kiddie level was that I was mostly familiarizing myself with the controls and figuring out how to do certain things. There’s a tutorial, but it’s super basic. A game takes about two hours, at least on the easy levels. There’s multiplayer, I guess, but I haven’t touched that yet.

Of course there are also some in-app-purchases. Some nation-specific military units (naturally) and wonders, plus other stuff. Every now and then a great person appears that they want you to buy. For four bucks I bought what was supposed to be all the stuff, but I guess it’s only some of all the stuff because there’s still stuff it wants me to get. It doesn’t matter because you can do just fine without those items.

I’m really excited about finally being able to play a game like this, and I can’t wait until I can be the one telling someone to hand over the secret of Navigation or face an ass-whupping.

Posted in Videogames | Tagged , ,

Justified Season 5 Wrap-Up (Spoilers Galore!)

Left to Right: Interesting character pointlessly killed, interesting character pointlessly killed, Boyd Crowder.

About halfway through this season of Justified I was thinking it was going to go down with season two as one of the best ever.

My prediction was as premature as it was incorrect.

In my defense, there was a lot to like. The running theme was that the stuff that had worked for the main characters up until this point was no longer working. Raylan was in a situation he couldn’t smirk or shoot his way out of, Boyd was dealing with people who had no time for his smooth talk, Ava found the limits of her toughness and her relationship with Boyd. The arrival of the Crowe clan stirred up the pot, adding some unpredictable and unimpressed elements that were far more dangerous and cunning than the usual shitkickers lurking in Harlan. They quickly got into everyone’s face and disrupted what little peace there was. More importantly, all the chicken were finally coming home to roost, as everyone’s past misdeeds were catching up to them. It really looked like an apocalyptic storm was going to descend.

The other running theme was that as central as Raylan and Boyd were to the show, they were essentially big fish in a generally small and stupid pond, and when operating outside of that pond they were far less capable. The Crowes, Picker, and the Cartel had potential to raise the stakes the way that the Detroit outfit never really seemed able to.

But then nothing of it stuck. The Crowes were whittled down by their own hands, in a way that wasn’t particularly interesting. Picker and the Cartel were quickly disposed of. Ava just gets out of prison. Even Art getting shot ended up being not that big of a deal. I don’t even remember where we left Dewey. None of it ended up making much of any difference, and none of it really paid off.

And I have yet to talk to anyone who enjoyed the momentum-sucking vacuum of the Ava storyline. I love Ava but man that was some boring, by-the-numbers prison junk that I don’t care about. And all for what? To set up a deal that Boyd should see through in two minutes?

This was a season in which Boyd pretends to be dead twice, as though that was ever going to work even once. Mary Steenburgen came in an shows a lot of potential, but mainly underlines the problem of why is Wynn Duffy wasting his time in Harlan, or others wasting their time with Wynn Duffy? Picker brought this up, but it doesn’t go anywhere, and then Steenburgen is interested in someone she barely knows orchestrating a bank robbery for her? Huh? After the absolute clusterfuck of the heroin deal that can be pinned straight on Boyd and the baggage he brings with him? Don’t these people know better people? Either Boyd is in over his head when not dealing with Harlan rubes or he’s not, but it can’t be both ways.

There too with Raylan. If his arrangement with Sammy Tonin was enough to make Art take a swing at him and want no more to do with him, how could Art in good conscience transfer him elsewhere? Why wouldn’t he want Raylan out of the service completely? Again, either Raylan is a troublemaker that poisons the cases he works on or he’s not, and Art wouldn’t just send a live grenade to another department.

And then, finally, NOW the Dept. of Justice wants to go after Boyd? How hard can that POSSIBLY be, considering all the loudmouths in Harlan he’s wronged? How can building a case against Boyd Crowder take thirteen episodes? The first five minutes of Season Six should be a cell door closing on Boyd and Vasquez shaking Raylan’s hand saying, “Whew! Just in time for lunch, my treat!”

On the one hand I’m glad that next season is Justified’s last, as I don’t want to see any show I like die before it ends. On the other, six may turn out to be one too many.

Posted in TV | Tagged