Baby, It’s Cold Outside

December 14, 2018

So, there’s been a bit of a kerfuffle over the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”. CBC recently dropped it from and then reinstated it on their Christmas playlists due to the controversy. The arguments against the song are over how creepy and “date rapey” the song seems today, usually trying to make a link to the #MeToo movement about sexual harassment, and so linking the song to that. Defenders of the song usually appeal to it being written in a different time and not meaning the things that those opposed to it think it means.

There are probably two big arguments about it. The first is that throughout most of the song there is a conversation between a woman who wants to go home for the night and her erstwhile boyfriend who keeps trying to convince her to stay, which can seem like coercion. The second usually focuses around one line where she accepts a drink from him and then asks “Say, what’s in this drink?” which is often translated by people who have no idea what they’re talking about into some link to the Date Rape drug, despite the fact that such a thing wasn’t in common use around that time.

While others hint otherwise, I think that the most common and reasonable interpretation of the “Say, what’s in this drink?” line is that there might be a little more alcohol in it than she expected, which might be an attempt to get her to loosen up a bit. But doing that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, some advice for shy people in social situations is to have a drink so that their inhibitions will be lowered. Having your inhibitions lowered isn’t a bad thing unless your inhibitions are actually telling you to not do things that you really shouldn’t do; if those inhibitions are stopping you from doing things that you should or should be able to do, then lowering them is probably a good thing, as long as the lowering itself doesn’t cause any kind of issues.

So, then, we need to look at the rest of the song to see what is happening here. Given the context of the entire song and the time it was written, I definitely think that the most reasonable interpretation is that she wants to stay but is running up against social strictures against doing so — that aren’t as strict for men — and so she’s giving the standard excuses and he’s trying to give her excuses for not following that wisdom, particularly that it would be an extreme hardship and even dangerous for her to leave due to the weather. At the end, depending on the version of the song, she seems to accept willingly and not reluctantly, which supports the idea that she wanted to stay and was talked out of her inhibitions, not talked into doing something that she didn’t want to do.

That being said, it’s not as easy to see that in the modern context. While the same sorts of social strictures can be in place, they aren’t as common anymore. Thus, a woman giving those excuses is less likely to be doing so on the basis of “What would people think?” but instead as excuses to leave so that she doesn’t have to stay. And in that context, he’s trying to coerce her into staying when she doesn’t want to. I can see how that might bother some people, and make them feel like she’s giving in rather than ultimately being convinced to do what she really wanted to do anyway, if not for those invalid social strictures.

So, turning to the radio stations: I can see that some of them might want to drop it because the song has implications today that it didn’t have then, there are plenty of older and modern Christmas songs to play, and they don’t really want to deal with that hassle. I think that that argument, if that’s what was used, would work: it implies things that don’t work as well today as they did back then, which can spoil the enjoyment of the song for some people, and there are lots of enjoyable Christmas songs to play. On top of that, if people want to listen to it, they can always get versions of it all over the place to listen to themselves in the privacy of their own home. So it would really be more of a “We don’t really want to get into this issue over implications”. Unfortunately, most of the radio stations and critics tend to outright say that it’s creepy or date rapey, which it actually isn’t, which then causes controversy and outcries.

By the same token, however, if a station wants to keep playing it on the grounds that it doesn’t mean that, that’s fine, too. Just because some people interpret a song a certain way doesn’t mean that they’re right to do so, and if they are interpreting it wrong and that causes them to take a creepy meaning from the song no one need humour their wrong interpretation. So I’m fine here with pretty much any choice CBC had made … well, except perhaps deciding to drop it and then reinstating it, which seems wishy-washy.

Now, you could ask that if it was the religious Christmas carols that were being dropped simply because they had religious connotations in a modern world that was less religious, would I feel the same way? The situations are different, though. The first big difference is that if a station wanted to ban all religious Christmas carols, they’d have to get rid of most of their playlist, including some of the most famous and most beloved Christmas carols. Dropping one semi-popular song is no where near that extreme, and so doesn’t need as much justification. Second, the argument that it has a different implication in modern society doesn’t hold. Society is less religious, certainly, but that alone doesn’t give a religious song any different or problematic implications. The most that could happen is that in a less religious society fewer people would want to listen to religious carols, but then their popularity would drop and the market would take care of it. There’s a direct argument about the specific song here, and clearly it isn’t “People aren’t listening to it anymore”. And finally, until Christmas stops being a religious holiday entirely, it’s going to be accurate to imply that Christmas has a link to religion, thus dealing with any possible implications. There is nothing in “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” to make its modern implications accurate and, in fact, nothing to actually link it to Christmas. You could replace that song entirely with “Winter Wonderland” and lose absolutely nothing.

I don’t mind the song, and listen to it not infrequently. But if it disappeared from playlists I wouldn’t miss it one bit, and I can see that it has implications today that it didn’t have back then which stations might not want to deal with. All in all, I think this really has to be up to the individual stations to decide what to do, and if they play it or not — and if people listen to it or not — it says very little about them as people. Or, rather, it says more about those people who don’t play it or refuse to listen to it than it says about people who still enjoy it given its original context, but for the former it doesn’t say enough for me to hang them from the highest bough.

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Thoughts on “Allure”

December 13, 2018

So, after subscribing to Crave, I went and looked through all of the movies they currently have on offer and made a list of the movies and TV shows that I wanted to watch at some point. One of the movies on the list was “Allure”, which looked to me like one of those little drama movies that I watch on IFC (Independent Film Channel): a movie about some sort of dramatic situation that kills some time and might be interesting. As such, I wasn’t expecting to talk about it at all, and when it came on at 6 am I figured that I might as well take the time and watch it. And after watching it, I actually really do want to talk about it.

The plot is basically this: a woman named Laura who has a fairly screwed up life is doing house cleaning for her father’s company, and meets a 16 year old girl, Eva, in one of them. Eva is having a hard time with her mother, especially the fact that she has a new boyfriend and they are going to move out of the house somewhere else. Laura is … interested in Eva, sees the move as a threat, and convinces Eva to run away and live with her. She then carries out a semi-plan to essentially abuse her and manipulate her not only into staying but into a sexual relationship. The reason that I call it a semi-plan is that Laura seems to be too screwed up to actually commit these sorts of plans or even to come up with good reasons for them. At one point she locks Eva in a room and her explanation for why she did that and why she needs to keep her there makes no sense, and eventually just results in Laura guilting Eva into staying by repeatedly saying that Laura will be sent to jail if anyone finds out what happened. Since Eva was very upset by being locked in the room and considering that she hadn’t known Laura for that long when that happened, I’m not really convinced that she wouldn’t still run out immediately afterwards. If Laura had been better at manipulation — explaining it that someone was coming over or something and she needed to hide her, for example — then this would have been better.

The real issue, though, is what indeed makes that scene not work. For most of the movie, I was puzzled and often bored by the focus on Laura. We find out lots of things about Laura’s life and circumstances, and find out relatively little about Eva at all. The movie spends its time focusing on Laura and Eva tends to be a side-story in Laura’s life. But … Eva is the sympathetic character, and Laura is her abuser. Laura clearly grooms and manipulates Eva into a relationship that is bad for Eva, and Eva clearly wants to leave but is lied to and manipulated into staying. At one point, Laura is beaten up as part of a revenge plot against her — that she is made vulnerable to because Eva isn’t ready to have the sort of sex, at least, that Laura wants — and I was wondering where this was going go … and then was puzzled when it doesn’t seem to go anywhere. This led to me feeling that the movie dragged as it focused on Laura instead of Eva, the one that it should be focusing on.

But the ending was a revelation, explaining why all of that stuff was there, because the ending only works if we feel sympathetic towards Laura. At the end, Eva and Julia go swimming at a pool around Christmas with Eva being very depressed. She dives into the water and lets herself sink to or towards the bottom — a scene that is used for cuts throughout the rest of the movie — and then presumably hears Laura calling her name, comes to the surface, grabs some of her things and runs off into the snow and cold. Laura then goes to her father — who earlier had apologized for some unspecified sin in the past — and says that she’s completely alone now but that she’s okay with it, and drives off into the snow. Presumably, she has realized that she destroys everyone around her and is going off alone to avoid doing that, but unless she’s sympathetic we aren’t going to care, and this is only compounded by the fact that the movie never tells us what happened to Eva. We can presume that she just went home, but she could have frozen to death as well for all the movie cares or establishes. But, again, Eva was the sympathetic character. She’s the one we care about, because we get to see her life being ruined by this and know that she did nothing to deserve it. And while the movie hints at abuse in her past — presumably from her father — the only time this is stated is when Laura is trying to manipulate Eva, and when Eva confronts Laura’s father about that Laura pretty much acts like that never happened. And considering how screwed up Laura is, it’s hard to know what really happened there, and so we don’t really get a sense of “Cycle of Abuse”, but more a sense that the movie is trying to make us feel sympathy for a mostly unrepentant abuser.

A big part of the issue is how passive Eva is throughout the entire movie. If Laura had had a more glamourous life that Eva could have been drawn into, then the movie could have played it off as the two of them growing closer together more naturally and then having Laura’s screw-ups inadvertently destroy Eva, which then could lead to the revelation at the end. But Laura, from the start, is manipulating Eva, and Eva seems to be for the most part dragged by Laura into all of this by Laura playing on her issues and insecurities. Thus, the destruction seems to follow from direct and conscious actions taken by Laura, even as her own issues cause her to act out in excessive and problematic ways. This makes the revelation at the end hollow, because Laura didn’t destroy her inadvertently, but destroyed her with direct actions, and with actions that she also noticed were hurting Eva. Her revelation is the wrong revelation. She is not revealed to be an abuser, someone who always abuses — there is an earlier scene that hints that she stalked a previous love interest — and thus has to deal with that, but as, again, someone who does this inadvertently. And that kills anything the movie wanted to portray here.

There’s no recommendation for watching or not watching this movie, because the point of this post is just to point out that oddity of a movie that is trying to humanize the abuser at the expense of the humanity of the victim, which is why it fails miserably. It’s not an exploitative movie, and seems to be making a point, but relying on us feeling sympathy for a pretty unrepentant abuser is not a good way to go.

Thoughts on “Spider-Man: Homecoming”

December 12, 2018

I was not impressed with the “Amazing Spider-Man” movie. As such, I never watched the second one in that series, and was hesitant to buy the new movie because I wasn’t sure I’d like it. It’s available on Crave, however, and so since I can watch it without paying anything extra I decided that it was worth trying this first collaboration between Sony and Marvel.

And it was disappointing.

The big problem here is that while it isn’t a bad superhero or a bad Marvel superhero movie, it’s not a very good Spider-Man movie. Or, rather, it’s not really a Spider-Man movie at all, in the sense that it touches on the themes and aspects that make Spider-Man interesting as Spider-Man. Sure, the trappings are here: the school life, Aunt May, Liz Allen — a rarely given nod to the comics — a hint at MJ, the suit, the webslinging, and the Vulture and Shocker names. But like Aunt May turning from a frail elderly lady to one that’s “unusually attractive” according to Tony Stark, the movie insists on taking new spins on all of these things that leave them as Spider-Man elements in name only and loses all of the things that makes them important and interesting.

Take why Peter can’t just tell May that he’s Spider-Man. In the comics and in most adaptations, there are two reasons given. One is that May’s health is too frail: a shock like that could kill her. This is obviously not a concern here, even as Peter says that with what she has gone through — which is never specified — Peter can’t do that to her. Why? Never answered (and the end of the movie implies that she finds out anyway). The other is that if Spider-Man’s enemies find out who he really is, then they’ll go after the people he cares about, which Raimi’s first movie actually had happen. While Vulture threatens to do that to Spider-Man, he never does, and when asked at the end of the movie who Spider-Man is denies knowing. So that threat is off the table. This is only made even less credible by the fact that his friend Ned finds out how he is and, despite almost spilling the secret on many occasions, nothing terrible happens. On top of that, the AI in Peter’s suit pushes him to tell Liz Allen who he is when he’s crushing on her, and Peter has no argument for why he shouldn’t. So why can’t he tell people who he is? The movie never tells us that, despite it being a major part of the character for so long.

And that’s really the issue here: what makes Spider-Man Spider-Man is the focus on character and character arcs. The plots are often nonsensical, but that’s because they’re only there to provide mechanisms for Peter’s characterization, character arcs, and character issues. All the the memorable events in Spider-Man tie into this. The death of Uncle Ben that he could have prevented, forcing him to accept that his great power gives him a great responsibility, which also ties into his being forced to choose between his life and responsibilities as Peter and his life and responsibilities as Spider-Man. The death of Gwen Stacey, driving home the idea that anyone he loves will be targeted by his enemies. The number of people close to him who have their lives ruined by Spider-Man, like Liz Allen and a number of others. The fact that his life as Peter Parker is not usually a good one, in spite of and often because of his life as Spider-Man. The fact that many people treat him with fear, suspicion and hate despite all the good he does as Spider-Man. All of these character arcs are what is interesting about the character, and give us a hero who despite all of these things still goes out and acts the hero out of his sense of responsibility.

Spider-Man has no character arc in this movie. Sure, there’s handwaving at him wanting to be a big hero and Avenger and learning at the end that he doesn’t need to be that, and that he has to learn how to be a man on his own before becoming the Iron Man-like hero, but these are just handwaved at. Vulture gets more character development that Spider-Man does, and Vulture’s development is pretty shallow itself. But without that, all we have is the plot. Not only is the plot uninteresting, that’s not what we watch Spider-Man movies for.

I also found that Vulture’s suit was far too impressive for a Spider-Man movie. He’s a monster in that thing, while even when he was using Tony’s enhanced suit it really looked like a huge villain against a pathetically underpowered Spider-Man. That Peter screws up most of the heroics throughout most of the movie doesn’t help. In general, it’s supposed to be Spider-Man’s wits and determination against the gimmicks of his enemies, but for most of the movie none of that happens, and only at the end does Spider-Man’s determination come into play … and, ultimately, Vulture defeats himself, so it doesn’t even matter.

Ned is annoying, especially in how he doesn’t really seem to care at all about protecting Peter’s secret identity, despite being his best friend. They hint at Michelle being MJ, but she’s nowhere near attractive enough for that role and has a really annoying personality to boot. The crush on Liz Allen comes out of nowhere and isn’t developed enough to work, especially since she isn’t one of the iconic Spider-Man romances and so pop cultural osmosis can’t kick in to give it some gravitas. I liked their attempt to use it, but it wasn’t developed enough to overcome its obscurity. And that she’s Vulture’s daughter seems too contrived to work, and is brought up too late to have the emotional impact it needed.

The humour works for the most part, and I really liked the Captain America spots, not only because they were funny but because they reminded me of why Chris Evans made a perfect Captain America. The last one was brilliant.

Overall, it wasn’t a bad movie, but it’s not what I want to watch when I watch a Spider-Man movie, which made it come across as far more boring than it would otherwise. It’s okay, but I’m kinda glad I didn’t actually buy it.

Thoughts on “The Windmill”

December 11, 2018

So, let’s skip the next movie in the “The Shadows” collection and move on to an even more cost effective example: “The Windmill”. I was browsing in Sunrise Records and saw this movie for $2, and figured that I really, really couldn’t lose at that price.

The basic premise is that a bunch of tourists are going on a tour of windmills in the Netherlands. As things go along, we find out that they all have histories where they have committed grave sins. The lead character starts seeing things, gets the bus to stop right by one windmill that isn’t on the map, at which point the bus refuses to start. As they try to find help they all start getting killed by a strange figure. At first, only the lead character sees any murders, and since they note that she’s on anti-psychotics they don’t believe her and even think that she’s the murderer, but later all doubt is removed. There’s also one innocent on the bus — the son of one of the sinners — and later the Japanese guy manages to avoid getting killed by actually feeling remorse for his crimes, leading them to discover the truth: they are being taken their sins by the supernaturally powered miller who has made a deal with the Devil.

The movie, in and of itself, is okay. The premise is pretty much straight Virtue Horror, and the movie itself pretty much sticks to that. It even gives itself a way to kill off any innocents, by later having the bus driver be in on the deal and just psychotic himself, and thus cleaning up any that the miller won’t kill so that they aren’t found out. This works more or less well, although parts of the movie drag as it tries to set up these things and keep the suspense up.

The real problem, though, is the ending, where the movie seems to break its own rules. Jennifer, the lead character, seems to have her sin be her murder of her father, although given the background it seems that he pretty much deserved it and was abusing both her and what I guess is her younger brother. Then, it is revealed that when she took the kid out of the trailer and lit it on fire, the kid went back in and she was too scared to go in after him. This, as a sin, is a really interesting take. After they decide that burning down the windmill again close the gate and at least let them escape, Jennifer is caught outside and seemingly faces the demon, and then the windmill starts burning with the son — the only remaining survivor — inside, she hesitates, rescues him, seemingly killing the bus driver in the process, and then they sit outside watching the windmill burn … and then it seems like the miller comes out and kills her, dragging her back into the windmill before it collapses. Presumably the son dies as well as he was a hemophiliac and had a wound that would eventually kill him. The bus driver is then revealed to be still alive — he was dabbing the flour that the miller made from the blood of the victims on his neck wound, which presumably healed him — and picking up a new set of sinners for the mill.

The problem isn’t that this leads to a downer ending. Downer endings are depressingly common in horror movies. The problem is that this ends up being a pointless ending. Like the original ending of “Happy Death Day”, doing this invalidates a large part of what happened in the movie. What is the point of having Jennifer rescue the son if that isn’t to show that she redeemed herself for her sin? But if she redeemed herself, then the miller wouldn’t have been able to touch her, as was established with the Japanese guy earlier. So, did she redeem herself, or not? If she didn’t, then that scene was pointless and the movie was deliberately lying to us or at least misleading us to build to a rather unimpressive downer ending. But if she did as the movie’s structure implies, then the movie cheats to give us a surprising downer ending, and if a movie cheats we aren’t likely to think of it all that fondly.

And the sad thing is that they didn’t even need to do this in order to set up for either sequels or for the idea that this is going to keep going on. It would have been perfectly reasonable to have them return to the city and simply leave on the basis that no one would believe them anyway, and thus go off to start a new life together with a maternal-son relationship since they both would have lost all their family — the father’s crime was the murder of his ex-wife, the son’s mother — but could have had a new life together. And then they could show the bus driver welcoming a new group to the bus, ending with the same scene of seeing the windmill restored. Supernatural intervention was already established, so we could easily see how this could come about. There was no need to kill off characters that the movie had spent a lot of time making sympathetic just to make a downer ending or one that suggested sequels.

As it is, the ending sours me on what was an okay movie before that. And I’m not alone. I was considering this a pretty good horror movie up until the ending, but the ending ruins a lot of the good that it did throughout the rest of the movie. Still, I could probably watch it again, and it’s definitely in the top half of the horror movies I’ve watched.

Doctor Who: Thoughts on Tennant’s Doctor

December 10, 2018

So the next major character to leave was the second time a Doctor left, which was when David Tennant left and was replaced by Matt Smith. Now, through my first two watchings of the show Eccleston was my favourite Doctor, and that hasn’t changed this time around. The first time I watched Tennant’s Doctor, I didn’t care for him all that much, but he eventually grew on me. Watching it this time, I liked him more from the start and figured out why I had that reaction the first time.

The Doctors of Doctor Who end up inviting similar comparisons to the various James Bonds. For me, personally, I find that Connery was the best all-round Bond, being able to pull off the seduction, fighting and humour aspects equally well. Brosnan was the second best all-round Bond, while in contrast Moore was the most humorous Bond but was aging enough to make the fighting and seduction aspects harder for him to pull off. Dalton was the darkest Bond, but didn’t really have the other aspects down all that well. I haven’t watched the latest movies enough to say anything about Craig. But the point is that there are aspects of Bond movies that always or almost always appear, and the various Bonds can be rated against each other based on how good they are at each of those aspects.

For the Doctor, there are also a number of aspects that are generally played up. Since the Doctor saves the world a lot, he has to be credible at doing so and often intimidating while he does that. There’s often serious drama, so the Doctor has to be able to pull off drama. But Doctor Who is also a lighter show, so the The Doctor not only has to be able to pull off often-utterly goofy humour but also the sense of amazement and fun that characterizes the show. I found the Eccleston was probably the best at being able to pull of anger, intimidation, amazement, fun and utter goofiness, and so was the best all-round Doctor of the modern Doctors to my mind.

Tennant is probably the most intimidating of the Doctors, and pulls off the drama as well as if not better than any of them. He also manages to pull off the enthusiasm quite well. The problem is that there’s an inherent dignity to him that precludes him being really, really goofy most of the time. Thus, most of his humour comes across like it did in the first episode, where he’s nostalgic about blood control but not really goofy about it. It’s funny, and it works as humour, but it does lose an aspect of the show that tends to be present and requires other companions or characters to add that goofiness back … and none of Tennant’s companions had personalities that really lent themselves to that: Rose was the love interest, Martha was too serious, and Donna took herself too seriously for that.

That being said, that inherent gravitas made Tennant the perfect choice for the Time Lord Victorious. From the first episode where he declares “No second chances. That’s the kind of man I am” to his stone-faced treatment of The Family, Tennant from the start is someone that you don’t cross, and even in the first episode his treatment of Harriet Jones shows that he has declared himself the arbiter of what is right and what is wrong, and he won’t let anyone or anything, even history itself, interfere with that. Eccleston’s Doctor was angry, but Tennant’s Doctor was scary. And so we can see, at the end, why the Time Lord Victorious was a bad, bad thing, even if the famous person he saved’s outrage was based on reading too much into a statement of his. He didn’t care about humanity anymore, but only if things worked out according to his moral senses. Tennant’s gravitas, as I said, brought that home as well as or better than anyone else could have.

I still like Eccleston better than him, though. But he remains my second favourite of the modern Doctors so far.

The next main characters to leave are Amy Pond. And Rory Pond.

Canada Cup …

December 10, 2018

So it turns out that there was another curling tournament coming up before the Boost National, which was the Canada Cup that ran last week. Jennifer Jones got the win, beating Kerri Einarson’s new, all-skip team 8 – 5 with a rather fortunate 3 in the ninth end sealing the deal. This was an odd game for me to watch, because while I still don’t really care for Jones’ team and like Einarson’s team a lot better, I’m also a bit hesitant to support that all-skip team and see them have success because it might hurt the idea that curling is a team game, with the different positions requiring different skill sets. That being said, what has been made clear about Einarson’s team is that they didn’t just throw the team together and started to have success, but that each of them worked really hard to develop the skills necessary to play well at their position. It’s easier for a skip to move to third — and vice versa — but Val Sweeting put a lot of effort into learning how to sweep, while the front-end worked out a lot to build up the muscle required to be really good at sweeping. And then they played lots of tournaments early in the year to get used to working together. And they still haven’t been really dominant, although they’ve won a number of events. So this is really coming together as a skilled — and relatively young — team coming together and working really, really hard to learn new roles than as a all-star team tossed together and cleaning up.

I also watched a couple of men’s games, and I’ve noticed that the men’s game isn’t quite as hit-happy as it used to be. The commentators even lampshaded that Kevin Koe’s main strategy was to get rocks in play and start blasting if things weren’t going well, but he hung on a lot longer in the game I watched than you’d expect, and I never really saw him blast. In fact, cleaning up the house happened more in the women’s games that I watched than in the men’s games. I think what’s happening is the same thing that I saw when watching mixed doubles at the Olympics, where getting a lot of rocks in play can result in big scores if your opponents miss, and it isn’t easy to tell when you’re really in trouble or when you can hang on. So the men’s teams have learned to be more aggressive, and it seems now that the women’s teams are learning to bail — and are starting to have the ability to bail — when things are getting too cluttered. Still, the women aren’t as good at it and so leave things around often enough that it’s still entertaining, whereas when I first started watching curling again blasting was too easy and too common for my liking.

Unfortunately, like at the Elite 10, the per-end shot clock was used instead of the full game shot clock, as Curling Canada is trying it out. I still don’t like it. As the TSN commentators noted, one issue with this is that it requires the teams to constantly pay attention to the clock or else risk running out of time. Brendan Bottcher did it twice in the tournament, and at least Kevin Koe — notorious for being slow — had to rush shots to get them in which might have contributed to misses. But that’s not entertaining. I don’t want to see a big end scored because one team couldn’t get their last shot in because they ran out of time, or because they had to rush their discussion or their shot just to get in under the wire. Unlike in other sports, there is no way to waste time in a way that hurts your opponents. In basketball or football, it’s at least reasonable to argue that the shot and play clocks exist to avoid having one team get up and then run the other team out of time to come back, as well as because that sort of time-wasting play is boring for the fans. But in curling, the only reasons to have the clock are to avoid boring the audience by having the players discuss every shot in detail, or else to ensure that the match ends inside a broadcast-friendly time limit. So it’s all about the experience, and rushing curling shots does not in any way add to the experience, either in-arena or on-TV. The argument that both sets of commentators raised was that it avoids teams playing a quick end to bank time, but I don’t see that as a very compelling argument. First, they’d only do that if they aren’t really given enough time and feel that banking time would be useful, and so the obvious solution to that is to give them more time. Second, for a team that needs to bank time more than other teams — like Kevin Koe — the other team doesn’t have to go along with it, and so can take that opportunity to press them to make things harder for them. Yes, a team running out of time isn’t fun to watch, but watching a team deliberately try to play on that weakness can be. And third, while those ends aren’t exciting they are at least quick, leaving 7 – 9 ends of more entertaining curling to watch. So I don’t really see the benefit of this change, and don’t see how it improves curling to always have each team constantly watching the clock every end, as that adds nothing to their shot-making or shot-strategy, which are the things we would presumably be watching curling for. And listening in on their strategizing is pretty entertaining for me.

Next up is the Boost National, starting this week.

Shomi Craving

December 8, 2018

So, a while back I was one of those who had the streaming service Shomi, which ended two years ago. Just recently, my cable provider added a version, at least, of its main competition at the time — they launched at about the same time and were constantly compared to each other — which is Crave TV. I had been tempted to pick that service up but I’m set up to watch stuff on my TV, not on my computer, and so hesitated to pay that much for something that I’d have to alter most of my viewing habits to actually watch. Now that it’s on my regular cable box, that’s not an issue anymore.

The package I have is actually interesting, as it contains channels from Crave and HBO that show shows and movies during the day, but also include an on-demand channel that lets me watch what’s available whenever I want to. It’s a lot like another channel I had a while ago, called Hollywood Suite, which only had movies. In fact, this model let me watch one of the movies on the list of movies I thought might be interesting, since it was on at 6 am when I wasn’t doing much anyway. I’ll probably talk about that one sometime this week.

The only issue with it is that the TV shows and movies clash with my huge stacks of DVDs to watch, since they obviously fit in the precise same time slots. On the plus side, having this will let me watch Agents of SHIELD, and well as inflict Voyager, Enterprise and Discovery on myself. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of a mixed bag [grin].

Another Update on Elsinore …

December 7, 2018

So, I’ve been keeping an eye on Elsinore mostly out of morbid curiosity. When last I talked about it about four months ago, they were working on issues discovered in Beta. A month and a half later, they produced their final Beta build for their backer. Two and a half months after that, there haven’t been any new updates.

To be fair, though, the Twitter account for the game has recently become far, far more active. Unfortunately, most of that is simple fluff that doesn’t give anyone any real sense of the game nor does it actually in any way hint at when the game will finally be released. As a digital game from an indie, it doesn’t have to worry as much about hitting the Christmas shopping season, which is good since it doesn’t look like it will hit it, although things quite often change quite suddenly for them so that’s not necessarily a safe bet.

Since the game was originally supposed to be out in 2016 and since while they almost tripled what they were asking for on Kickstarter that was only to $32000 and so not enough to fund development for an extra 2 – 3 years, I don’t think this can be considered a successful game development even if the game is great. And the long silences suggest that it’s not going to be that great. Still, if it does come out and if I can buy it without having to go on Steam I’ll probably give it a try to see if it managed to succeed despite my skepticism or if it ended up the disaster I thought it would be. Right now, I think safe money is probably on “Mediocre” given that they at least seem to be taking their time with it, but who knows?

Thoughts on “Vampire Princess Miyu”

December 6, 2018

So, the other anime that I managed to finish was “Vampire Princess Miyu”. Like “Mythical Detective Loki Ragnarok”, this is an anime series that I first saw parts of when I had access to an anime network on cable where I could watch episodes on demand, and found it interesting. So when I saw it in a local anime/manga store I decided to buy it and give it a try … and then didn’t watch it. This time I got through it and I have to say this about it:

It’s probably the most depressing show I’ve ever watched.

There will be spoilers for the show after this point, so be warned.

To be fair, what makes it depressing it also what made it interesting and work as a horror anime. The basic premise is that there are a number of evil creatures called Shinma out there who prey in some way on humans, usually by granting them some kind of desire that allows them to feed off of them and that leaves them usually dead or in fates worse than death when they are done with them. Miyu is a good Shinma and the Guardian, which means that it’s her job to defeat these Shinma and protect humanity. She arrives a new town with her allies Larva (a European Shinma that she defeated at some point) and a mascot-type creature called Shiina to do so, and ends up going to school and meeting some new friends Chisato, Hisae and Yukari. Another, more ambiguous Shinma named Reiha is also around and alternatively helps Miyu, with commentary from her talking doll Matsukaze who doesn’t care at all for Miyu. There are character threads and backgrounds for pretty much all of these characters in the anime, which will lead to an issue that I’ll get into in a little bit.

Why the show is generally depressing is that in order to build up the horror the show needs to gets us attached to the human victims, so that we feel the horror that they are being threatened with. However, the show goes a step further and has it be the case that things rarely, if ever, turn out well for those victims. One of the earliest episodes has the viewpoint character getting a beauty makeover by a Shinma who turns her into a mannequin. Her and all of the other women that the Shinma did that to remain buried as mannequins and it is implied that they are aware of what is going on as you can hear them whimpering in the dark, underground chamber where they are hidden. In fairness, that they did that was one of the more memorable things from when I watched the show the first time, but that sort of outcome is the rule, not the exception, which is one reason why the show is overall a pretty depressing one.

That they need to develop the plots and characters more to pull off the horror but also have a lot of backstory and character arcs means that the episodes tend to be a bit overstuffed, which means that the end resolutions often seem to be a bit rushed, and also make Miyu look weak. What usually happens is that Miyu confronts and reveals the Shinma, they banter a bit, it attacks, Miyu calls in Larva to attack it, and then she sends it back with her fire spell. There are relatively few cases where Miyu is the main combatant, which one would expect the Guardian to be. But after developing the horror and potentially things about the backstory, there really isn’t that much room to do anything more, which thus makes the confrontations a bit anti-climactic and disappointing.

All of this stuff, though, only adds to how depressing the series is because nothing turns out well throughout the entire series. Here’s where the big spoilers come it:

With Reiha’s arc, we eventually find out why she allies with Miyu even as she wants to kill her, and literally wants to kill her herself and not allow anyone else to do this. This is because Reiha’s father sacrificed his own life to protect the Guardian’s, who is Miyu. We also find out that the doll represents her dead father to her because her father told Reiha that it would protect her now that he couldn’t. We find this out something like five minutes before the doll is destroyed protecting her, which makes that a complete gut punch even taking into account that neither of the characters were all that sympathetic up to that point. And this is a major plot and character arc for the series.

But the worst is what happens to Miyu and her friends. Chisato gives her a friendship bracelet thing early in the series, and this represents their growing bond throughout the entire series. It’s even used to help defeat a Shinma later, with the claim being that its representation of friendship is what was responsible. The series also portrays Miyu making friends and fitting in as part of human society as character growth for her. Later, Chisato’s brother comes home and is revealed to be Shinma empowered by a cult or family of Shinma that are trying to kill Miyu. In defeating him — which she acknowledges will devastate Chisato because she cares for her brother so much — she ends up revealing herself to Hisae and Yukari, ending on a cliffhanger. At the start of the next episode Hisae has been killed mysteriously — which annoyed me because she was my favourite character in the series — and there is a debate over who did it. Yukari, then, is killed as well, and it is revealed that the murderer was Chisato, who in reality is a Shinma of the group that’s trying to kill Miyu, which she then proceeds to try to do. After a big confrontation, Miyu finally defeats Chisato, but the other two friends are dead and Chisato gets locked into a dream world — that the series established earlier that Miyu could create by having her lock some of the tortured humans into it, which places them into comas — where she is human and not a Shinma. Miyu and Larva then move on to the next town, alone again.

So, yeah, depressing.

Still, for all of those issues, it’s still fairly entertaining, if you’re in the mood for or can handle being depressed. Despite the fact that they killed off my favourite character, this is a series that I might watch again at some point.

DLC and Expansions …

December 5, 2018

So, last week, a question was answered on Shamus Young’s Diecast. The question was this:

Dear Diecast,

I have read Shamus’ columns regarding the EA, lootboxes, marketing and the state of the gaming industry in general. I found his takes to be collected and insightful in an realm that I think is often fraught with misunderstanding. What I would like to ask the diecast is whether they have paid much attention to Paradox Interactive games and their policy of neverending DLC.

As you likely know, Paradox publishes and develops Crusader Kings, Europa Universalis, Stellaris, and Hearts of Iron. As a simple example of their business policy, look at Crusader Kings II. CK2 was released in 2012 and as of this writing has just short of $300 worth of DLC and a new large expansion is planned to be release this coming week, nearly seven years since its original release. This seems like it creates a weird situation for buyers; if you’re buying the game today, you’re not going to want to buy all the DLC and you might feel like you’re being cheated having all these features locked behind paywalls (about half the characters are unplayable without two of the DLCs). That said, I bought CK2 at release and really enjoyed it and playing the game today without DLC is really a more expansive game than it was at release.

A cynic could say that Paradox should have released a “finished” game back in 2012, but I personally am always satisfied with their updates and am happy to pay for them to keep them coming (for CK2 and Stellaris, anyway). What’s your take on all this? Are there some perspectives I’m missing?

Thanks,
Mark

And there’s some discussion of this as well in the comments. I’m not going to address their answers. Instead, I’m going to talk a bit about how the things that Paradox is doing seem to be more like the old school term of “expansions” than the modern term of “DLC”, and that not acknowledging that difference is what is causing some of the cynical reaction that Mark references above.

In the old days, we didn’t have anything like DLC — because most people couldn’t reasonably download content for the most part — but instead games were expanded. The game would be released, it would get its initial sales, and then if things were going good enough a year or so later you might get a separate package released for sale that expanded the original game. It would add minor features, fix some bugs or annoyances or balance, and add some items that they thought would be cool. For RPGs, what you’d generally get is a new add-on quest or set of quests or adventure. For strategy games, you’d generally get new races, units and scenarios. But a couple of key things were always true about these. First, they would never be “Day 1” expansions; it would always take some time for an expansion to be produced. Second, they were never simply cosmetic changes; they always had to add something significant to the game because they had to be sold to customers physically.

DLC’s bad reputation, on the other hand, starts from the fact that those key things are not true. DLC can quite often be offered at release or very shortly afterwards, and also can often be nothing more than simple cosmetic changes that they could have released with the game itself. Sure, DLC can be cheaper than expansions, but it can also be less impressive than expansions as well. And while in general the base game had to be complete enough to play — as its popularity would have to justify releasing an expansion in the first place — out of the box, it is possible that a game could be made that isn’t complete without either Day 1 DLC or even later DLC, because of how easy DLC is to get and how much DLC is expected for any game. Sure, the base game always needs to be entertaining enough on its own to get people to be willing to purchase it, but you can leave significant features out that you know your players will want and promise that it will show up later in DLC. That didn’t work so well for expansions as players were not likely to be willing to wait that long.

So, from the above CK2 adding a new expansion seven years after it was released is definitely an expansion and not DLC, and no one can say that they should have provided it at launch because it’s both clearly too much work and is likely something that they didn’t really know anyone would want when the game was launched, with it only being after getting comments from real players or seeing how other expansions went that it seemed like a good idea. But lumping it in with DLC allows the question of whether or not it should have been release at launch. So we need to distinguish things that are expansions from the smaller things that many people think of when they hear the word “DLC”.

Now, on expansions themselves, again in general these are things that can make the base game better but aren’t actually required for it. We can see this play out in another field: board games. The board games Arkham Horror and Battlestar Galactica both had a large number of expansions. If you wanted to break into playing them and didn’t have any, you were or would actually be looking at spending much more money than you would currently spend on CK2. But while each of the expansions adding interesting mechanics, if all you bought was the base game you’d still not only get a complete game, but a pretty good sense of the experience that made the games popular in the first place. In fact, it is usually recommended that new players buy the base games and maybe one or two other expansions — Dunwich Horror is a big one that is recommended for Arkham Horror because it introduces injuries and madnesses which can improve the experience — to see if they like it first before making the monetary commitment to buying all the others (which I personally did not do for Arkham Horror, but then purchasing Kingsport is responsible for me actually liking the game in the first place so it worked out). And on top of that some players won’t want to get or want to play some expansions because they don’t like the mechanics. Pegasus and Kingsport are expansions that many players won’t play for Battlestar Galactica and Arkham Horror respectively, while I personally don’t care for Battlestar Galactica’s Exodus expansion very much and so try to avoid playing with it. The combination of the base game being playable — if, perhaps, too easy once players become experienced with it — and the expansions not appealing to everyone can limit the amount of investment someone has to make to play the game, at least until they know if it’s a game they’ll enjoy. Package sales can help with this as well.

I’ve never played CK2, but from what Mark said the base game is playable and enjoyable out of the box, so it seems to be doing that part right. The fact that half of the characters — whatever those are — are presumably in the game but not playable without extra DLC would be a bit worrying, as it would be including things in the base game that you need an expansion to really experience, which then puts pressure on you to buy at least those DLC, and makes it far less friendly to someone who wants to play a complete game without adding expansions. Good expansions add interesting things but aren’t things that you’d notice are missing while playing the base game if you haven’t already played the expansions. So it sounds like they’re on the right track, at least, and so shouldn’t be criticized just because today we call expanisons DLC. There’s a difference between at least the typical cases, and we need to recognize that so that we can encourage expansion behaviour while discouraging “Day 1 DLC” behaviour and things like lootboxes.