Archive for December, 2014

2014 in review

December 31, 2014

And the now traditional report on my stats for this year.

I did a lot better than I did last year, and this was almost my best year ever. A big part of this is because frequent commenter Crude added me to his list of blogs worth checking at his blog. I’d do the same, but I don’t have that in my layout and the layout I have is the one I kinda need. So I’ll just thank him here, link to his blog, and recommend that everyone go read it, even though most of you probably already do [grin].

I had more posts this year, 150 in total according to the report, and most importantly they talked about my longest streak of posts this year: 88 days. That’s pretty impressive, and I’ll have to work to extend that into the New Year.

Thanks to all who read the blog this year.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 11,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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I Know That Voice …

December 31, 2014

So, I’ve been playing through Oblivion and making every effort to finish it, and so for the first time in my life I’ve been immersed in a game where there’s voice acting for pretty much every character in the game, from the most minor to the most major. And there’s something really odd about that which is … the reuse of voices. In Oblivion, at least, there’s a small number of voices that are used for most of the NPCs, even for major ones. So they get used over and over and over again. Now, this wouldn’t be a problem if these voice actors were really, really good voice actors, able to do a wide range of voices and make them sound completely different. But either they aren’t that good — although they are good enough for what they’re doing — or they aren’t doing it, so you end up with multiple NPCs with the exact same voice.

This can cause some role playing problems. If you associated that voice with a villain, hearing it on one of your allies will still carry the emotional connotations, making it harder to like your ally. That’s also the case if it was the voice of an NPC that you really liked who now is playing the role of a villain. Also, while you’re wandering through a new city hearing the old voice will immediately get you thinking “What’s that guy doing here?”, when it’s a completely different character. This, of course, will break immersion and remind you that you’re playing a game with a limited number of voice actors.

Don’t get me started on the fact that all Argonians seem to have the exact same voice, at least per gender. I can buy it for the Daedra enemies, but a playable race?

Now, this was clearly done to INCREASE immersion, and have you think that you’re really talking to people and really interacting in a world. But, of course, having enough voice actors to at least make this be not noticeable would require a massive budget just for the voice acting. So Oblivion seems to compromise, by hiring just enough voice actors to make it hopefully less noticeable, but not so many that the budget gets out of control. But this sort of compromise is one that makes no one happy. It probably costs far more than they’d like to do the voice acting and limits the big name voices they can bring in for their main characters. Yet it’s still really noticeable to anyone who pays any attention at all to the voices, who are the people who will find the sheer amount of voice acting to be a really good thing.

Ultimately, this is one of the issues with a lot of the new and cool developments in current gaming: they tend to be all or nothing. If you go all out on it, it will cost you a fortune but will be amazing. If you don’t, then at best you’ll get a minor improvement possibly at the expense of something else, and at worst you’ll defeat the whole purpose of doing it. So do you break the bank or risk spending money for nothing or risk being considered out-of-date? Choose wrong, and you might go out of business.

Multi-Genre Multimedia …

December 30, 2014

So, while browsing around for games to play, I came across Persona 4: Arena. Since Persona 4 is one of my favourite games ever, this immediately drew my attention. And this is a game that continues the stories of Persona 3 and Persona 4, which are my two favourite games ever. But it does it in an interesting way. This is not an RPG-like game, and so not an expansion like “The Answer” was. Instead, this game is … a 2-D fighting game, made with the help of the guys from BlazBlue.

Now, this is a really interesting idea. The story and the franchise is bridging itself across multiple genres, meaning that you can have different types of games all telling parts of the same story. It’s not a completely new one, however. Mortal Kombat spread out into at least one more platform-oriented game; The Blair Witch Project created a couple of tie-in games in different genres, and in a similar vein the .hack series split itself across different media — games, anime and manga — to produce its entire story. So spreading the story out among diverse elements is not new. But this is certainly different since here the elements are really diverse; you have a solid turn-based RPG moving to a action-packed 2-D fighter.

I both like and dislike this. It’s really nice if a franchise can spread out among different sorts of games, but in most cases those moves were mostly of the “let’s milk the franchise&amp” variety as they shoved a popular franchise into a standard game of another genre to draw in the fans. In this case, according to them — and given their past history I have no reason to doubt or question them — they’re doing more than that, and are continuing the story. This isn’t just a tack on that might explain some backstory or something, if that, but an actual advancement of the story in a different genre. So the thought of having a whole story told out in multiple genres sounds really interesting to me.

downside is that the whole story would be spread across a whole bunch of different genres … some of which some players may not like. In this case, I like 2-D fighters and like RPGs more, so if I have an easy enough easy difficulty I’m going to be able to get through the game and experience all of the story. But if I didn’t like 2-D fighters, I’d be out of luck, and would be missing out on something that was part of a franchise that I loved, and that thing would be something that I really want to have. That’s not good, and under certain circumstances might be considered a slap in the face to the RPG fans that made the franchise popular in the first place.

So while having a diverse set of genre or media options can be really good, it can also go horribly wrong. I applaud the innovation, and in this case it will work for me. But if it became the norm, then I might not be so happy

Brand New Game, Same as the Old Game

December 29, 2014

So, I recently bought BlazBlue Continuum Extend Limited Edition, and glancing around at some of the comments and reviews about it one thing that keeps coming up is that the Extend isn’t, in fact, a new game, but pretty much the old game with some new stuff tossed in. Okay, okay, a LOT of new stuff. They completely rebalanced the characters, added a few new gameplay modes, added a few new story elements, and some other goodies. They also added in some of the characters that you previously had to pay for as DLC. So, for someone like me who has just discovered this, this is a wonderful thing and fully worth the price of a new game. But what about people who bought the previous version and the DLC? Is it worth them paying the full price for a new game to get a game that basically they already paid for? But since the movesets and the balance has been changed, they’re going to have to get it if they want to play on-line or in tournaments. So they get the honour of paying full price for the game, full price for the DLC, and then full price for the Extend version, since the company — at least, as far as I’ve heard — isn’t putting out the rebalancing as a patch.

Lovely.

But then I think about this a bit more, and then I realize that I’ve seen this happen before. And no, I’m not thinking about fighting games from Capcom — Marvel versus Capcom 3, I’m looking at you here — but am instead thinking about Persona 3. I bought the original version of Persona 3 and after ignoring it for over 6 months, I played it and it became my favouritist game ever. And then not too long after, the announcement came in for Persona 3: FES, which would include the full version of Persona 3: The Journey, the expansion The Answer, and a few new S-links and scenes. And I think I ran out to pre-order it, without too much of a second thought. I didn’t mind it then, so why is this a problem?

Well, one difference is that if I recall correctly FES was slightly LESS expensive than a normal game, so it wasn’t quite full price. But I think it was close enough that it doesn’t really make a difference to the discussion. It also didn’t have a multiplayer option and, as an RPG, is totally unsuited for tournaments, so there’s that. And there was no DLC for it, which meant that I was simply getting another copy of the game without having to count the cost of DLC in my determination.

Ultimately, I think that for RPGs this sort of "Expansion with some enhancements to the original" is a great idea, and one well-worth pursuing. I would have loved if this had been done to Persona 4 or other RPGs. Unfortunately, where this is being done is with fighting games, where it doesn’t work as well for two broad reasons. The first is that fighting games tend to be more of a multiplayer than a solo experience, and so if one person updates everyone else does as well, so it’s harder to sit on the version you have if it’s good enough for you. The second is that because the story and game mode elements take second place to the actual fighting in fighting games — duh! — it’s harder to find extras that really make you think that it’s worth getting the new version that don’t completely change the game experience, because the elements that most people notice are, well, in the fighting part itself. You can always add on — well, perhaps not ALWAYS — something to the story of an RPG, but you can’t do that to a fighting game.

It’s interesting, then, which group seems the most interested in enhancing and re-releasing the same game as a semi-new game.

And so I face the final curtain …

December 28, 2014

There aren’t a lot of games that I’ve finished and never wanted to replay. For the most part, if I managed to finish it once it ends up being a game that I would replay if I had the time. But there were a few, that unhappy few, that band of … games that I finished and didn’t want to replay for some reason.

The first of those I remember is Shogun: Total War. Yes, that’s the original Shogun. Now, I don’t normally even count these games as being games I finished because winning it on one setting — usually “Easiest” — can’t really be said to be finishing it, anymore than you can claim to have “finished” Monopoly after playing a complete game. But this was a game that I started playing, played, enjoyed, won a round of … and then never loaded again. This one is a mysterious one, because I did like the game and really didn’t have any hard feelings about it. I especially loved sending my geisha in to execute every general in the opposing army before slaughtering their forces. But once I beat it I never loaded it again.

Another one that I can think of is Suikoden V. After struggling to finish it for so long, I find that I really don’t want to play it again. But in this case, I know why: while the story is good, the gameplay isn’t that great and can be really annoying at times. And I don’t think I’ll ever get all the stars to get a better ending, so why bother? I can just play Suikoden III if I want to play that sort of game.

And finally, the game that started me down this thought path: Catherine. Again, I know exactly why I don’t want to play it again: the story is okay, but the gameplay is so bad that I can’t bring myself to actually replay it. Every time I get even a small temptation to do so — usually while listening to the soundtrack, which is great to listen to at work — I remember all of those blocks and the falling and the blood and the screaming and decide to go do something less stressful and frustrating, like my income tax.

Now the last two might have a shot at being replayed, because I originally thought when I finished Persona 4 that I wouldn’t replay it much and, well, I’ve replayed it about 5 or 6 times, mostly because its Tartarus sections are easier to compartmentalize than Persona 3’s; you can literally just run through it in a couple of after school sessions and then spend the rest of the month on the S-links. I’m not sure that will happen with those, but I guess it’s possible.

It’s odd for me that when I see the final curtain of a game that that really is the final curtain for that game with me. But it does happen.

All in One Shot?

December 27, 2014

So, I’ve been playing Oblivion on the PS3 for a bit now, and as I’ve gotten into it more and played it more with my fairly generic Breton battlemage type (I, for a lark, went with a created class because customization is what I really like, even if all my choices were just things I thought would be useful) I’ve been thinking that this game would be a perfect game to run through with multiple characters. It would be easy to, say, build a Robin-type character, or an Angel-type (even with the vampirism if you wanted), or a Buffy-type, or a Wolverine-type or … well, name a character. And you can even invent characters on your own of any type, and make them any type you want, or even hybrids. The customization, then, is outstanding. But there’s a slight problem:

The game is so large and involved that by the time you finish it you probably wouldn’t want to try it with a new character again.

That isn’t quite the right way to put that. What I’ve been noticing is that the game, right now, guides me through the quests — or at least the obvious ones — so well that I’m always doing something. I’ve been playing for a while and I’m on something like the second stage of the main quest, and haven’t gone to Shivering Isles yet or retrieved the relics for the Pilgrim quest. I haven’t finished the Fighters Guild or Mages Guild yet. But I’ve already done a ton of quests and probably played for about 10 – 20 hours. Presuming that the quests are interestingly different with a different character, just to get back to this what I’d consider an early state would take me about the same amount of time. Yeah, that’s a little … excessive. 10 hours into Persona 3 I was well into the main plot and many of my S-links.

So what this does is discourage you from playing multiple characters, which encourages you to play through as many of the quests as you can with one character. But this ruins the customization; at least part of that is to be able to play multiple characters with completely different settings, and thus make a replayable game. Being so involved, though, means that replaying the game is not something you’re likely to do, and so a big part of the benefits of such a great customization system are lost.

Now, from what I’ve heard, Skyrim has gone even further in this direction by removing restrictions for entering some of the guild quests. You no longer have to steal anything to be asked to join the Thieves Guild; you will be approached even if you don’t have any skills or actions worthy of being a thief. And some of the comments I’ve seen have suggested that this is because players don’t want to play the game more than once to complete all the content, and so it has to be possible to do it all in one shot, and presumably without too much extra work (ie stealing things for the sake of raising your skill level even if your initial skill was set really low).

This, for me, is a problem, though, because it takes away something that everyone seems to think important: replayability. It’s something that gets listed in reviews all the time, and we even have it as an important category in our reviews. And here it seems that a game is being designed deliberately to reduce replayability, because people would like to have one character run through and get all the quests instead of having it be the case that different characters get different experiences (ie my mage-type joins the Mages Guild, my fighter-type joins the Fighters Guild, and my lawful character refuses to join the Thieves Guild while my thief-type seeks them out). Thus, the game’s massive potential for customization plays itself out as a far more generic experience than it needs to be.

Okay, okay, although I haven’t played Skyrim yet from what I’ve heard it isn’t that bad; it’s still different for different classes. But the trend is worrying, all the more so because it’s so unnecessary. What you want to do to make everyone happy is this:

1)Make it so that every different class-type, if played as that class-type, has both a similar and unique experience in the game as the others. So magic users are encouraged by the game to join the Mages Guild, rogues are encouraged to join the Thieves Guild, and both are encouraged to do things in a magical or sneaky way if possible.

2)Make it so that this can be ignored, and that you can ignore some of the unique content if you don’t want to play it, even if you are a mage, and that if you plan things carefully you can do other things or hybrid (ie fighter-mage, mage-thief, etc) with that sort of character. So don’t impose the unique content on the player.

3)Following from 2, make it so that if you plan really carefully and put a lot of effort in — even with some grinding — you can experience all of the content in one run … but it will take a lot of hours and a lot of forethought.

If you do 1), most people will get at least one really good story experience, even if there is content that they are missing. If you do 2), then people can select to some extent what content they want to experience while still maintaining 1) for those who just want at least one good story. Doing 2) should give you 3), which should satisfy those who want to do everything with one character.

Note that this is, in fact, how Persona 3 works. There are guides that can tell you how to max all the S-links in one playthrough. I’ve never done it, and the S-links that I’ve left off have not hurt me mechanically in any way. I’ve just either ignored them or not had the time to finish them. So I’m in 1) and 2) with that game, and some others are in 3), but we both get the game we want. And the game is replayable because I can always try to get different S-links the next time, or play as a different character that would hang out with different people than the character in my previous game would have.

The main point here is that replayability and allowing someone to experience all the content one-shot are not, in fact, mutually exclusive. But sacrificing replayability by making everything too easily accessible is a bad idea. Making it an effort to do everything in one shot should give everyone what they want, which is the ability to do it all in one shot without having to build the world assuming that that’s what will be done most of the time.

When the Real Game is Worse Than the Pirated One …

December 26, 2014

I’ve long been of the opinion that the best way to stop piracy is to make it more worthwhile to buy the game than to pirate it. Now, in a lot of ways this is hard for any kind of computer software, because it seems that for software the only product you’re selling is the software itself, and pirates can get that easily. The reason that, for example, no one really has to worry about automobile piracy is that reproducing a 2012 Ford Taurus so that it’s actually the same as that car is really, really hard to do. Not so for computer software; all you need is a disk that has copies of all the files and it looks like that’s as good as having an original copy.

Now, I’ve long thought that you can stop some of this by giving people reasons to buy games like really good manuals and bonuses. For example, my copy of “The Witcher 2” came complete with a printed game guide, a bonus DVD and an audio CD. One edition of “Starship Titanic” came with a guide and an audio book of Douglas Adams’ novel of “Starship Titanic”. While some of these things you can copy, too, they do give you a reason to buy it. However, I can see the reasoning behind the idea that it’s too hard to simply make buying the game be worth it more than simply downloading or copying it, and so that the best approach for publishers is to make it harder for the software to be reproduced. And that introduces the notion of DRM.

Now, I’m going to include all types of copy protection under the banner of “DRM”, even though that almost certainly isn’t accurate. So, to me, manual checks and code wheels are DRM just as much as having to be logged on all the time are. And so we can see that this approach to software piracy has been around for quite a long time. Some are less problematic than others. For example, unless you lose your manual or code wheel you aren’t likely to worry too much about having to look something up before starting the game, and leaving the CD in the drive is usually not much of a problem. But a DRM that might cause harm to your machine is a little more problematic, to put it mildly.

But note something that all DRM has in common: presuming that the pirated version is at least a problem- and virus-less copy of the original game, all DRM makes it so that people who actually buy the original game, at the end of the day, have a WORSE product than those who pirated it.

For code wheels and manual checks, people with pirated copies don’t have to remember where their manuals are or do anything to start it. For CD checks, people with pirated copies can file their CD away safely somewhere and be able to run their games for as long as the game is installed on their hard drive. For games that have a limited number of installs, people who have pirated the game can install it as often as they want. For games with invasive DRMs, people with pirated games avoid that risk. For games that require constant internet connections so that they can download the content to you for a single player game, people with pirated copies can play without having to have their internet connection on or, in fact, without having broadband at all. Add in that at least in the past crackers used to also enable cheats, and you end up with the pirated copy being better all around than the original even if you didn’t consider the fact that the pirated copy is free.

As you can see from the above paragraph, DRM has gotten worse over the years, and the gap in quality of product between pirated games and the originals is growing. While it might be hard to make the original product better than pirated copies, it doesn’t seem like a good idea to set out to make it WORSE just to maybe avoid some people copying it.

If DRM did more than just prevent piracy, this wouldn’t be so much of a problem. If DRM made the games better for those who actually buy the game as well as harder to copy, that would be great. While I don’t like Steam myself, it’s a good example of an attempt to do that: it builds the DRM into a system that also provides benefits like automatic patching and the ability to completely redownload any game you’re registered as owning. Valve wants people using Steam to cut down on piracy, but they added functionality to make people want to use Steam. Everyone wins. Ubisoft, on the other hand, is going the opposite route, introducing restrictions without giving any benefit to the people who are actually willing to spend money to play their games.

If someone would be willing to put money down on your game but is tempted to choose the pirated version because your DRM is too annoying, that CAN’T be good for you.

What is Christmas?

December 25, 2014

So, I bought new Christmas CDs this year, including two new ones from the Trans Siberian Orchestra, which are both much better than the one I’ve had for a few years now. Anyway, I was listening to “The Lost Christmas Eve” and think that the song “What is Christmas?” really sums up the holiday:

What is Christmas? Tinseled fairy tales
Day old stockings lined up in a row
What is Christmas? Could someone tell me that?
What is Christmas? Surely, I don’t know

And everywhere these lights
Who needs to color night?
Could this whole thing be planned?
I do not understand

This Christmas trees with colored lights
Underneath they still are only trees
Do you think that one day perhaps they might
Find that Christmas is kind of a disease?

Every year it’s waiting for me, waiting for me
Every year it constantly defies
Placing strangers there before me, there before me
Spreading hope and cheer mixed in with happiness
Fraternal bliss and other Christmas lies

And there’s one more thing that I have discovered
That I would now like you to know
The reason for Christmas I now realize
Is an excuse to tolerate snow, snow

I don’t even like the sound of it
Anyway, where was I?
Oh, yes

What is Christmas? Candles everywhere
A fire hazard any other day
Children light them, no one seems to care
All for Christmas

Every year it returns here
And every year it’s waiting for me
Why can’t Christmas disappear
And just pretend it never saw me?

Every year I get my hopes up
That it will somehow just leave
But every year I wake to find
That once again it now is Christmas eve

Merry Christmas [grin].

Political Correctness, Diversity, and Changing with the Times …

December 25, 2014

So, I read on Pharyngula that there was some discussion about having a black James Bond, and some people reacted badly to that suggestion. One of the common complaints was about this being a “PC” — politically correct — move, and the comments are puzzling over what politically correct means, anyway. There were also a number of suggestions for other substitutions that they’d love to see, alarmingly often justified with nothing more than it would annoy the people who would be annoyed by them, which is hardly an artistic justification that I can get behind. I’ll outline and deal with them a little later, but right now let me talk a bit about how I see politically correct and why that sort of political correctness is a bad thing in my opinion.

I’m not going to bother checking the history of the phrase to see if I’m using the words right, but I see political correctness as exactly that: the sort of correctness that politicians do. Which means, to me, that it’s not about promoting real equality or real diversity, but is instead about looking the part. So regardless of the actual impact that the change has on the world or the work, the decision or change is made to look like you’re doing something and to avoid people complaining that you aren’t doing anything. In the world of TV and film, that usually means essentially “tokenizing” the work, by inserting “token” minorities but either not inserting them in any meaningful or important role — ie diversifying the supporting cast but not the main cast — and/or running the same sort of story and making the diversity meaningless when it wouldn’t be, and/or inserting that token character and driving their characterization by their stereotypes instead of as a full character. For me, in a TV or film role, there are two main conditions that make it a politically correct role:

1) The role is explicitly aimed at a specific group, be it black, Asian, female, gay, whatever in order to aim at diversity
2) But at the end of the day, the diversity is in name only: nothing about the role requires that it go to that group and they don’t rely on anything about that group in the characterization.

This wouldn’t count roles that are gender and race neutral that pick the best actor/actress for that role, and wouldn’t count roles where exploring the at least potentially different perspective is a key point of the character.

So now let me list the various suggestions:

1) A black James Bond.
2) The already done in the recent remake black Annie.
3) A female James Bond.
4) A female Doctor.
5) A female Doctor Strange in the upcoming movie.
6) Making Johnny Storm black in the upcoming Fantastic Four movie.

Now, the first thing to note about all of these suggestions is that they aren’t talking about roles. This isn’t about creating, say, a new Time Lord that is a woman and basing a series on that. Or making a female spy in the vein of James Bond in a new movie series, or even a spin off. No, this is all about taking an existing character in an existing popular series and making them black or female in order to add diversity (and, from the comments, piss off “bigots”). But two things strike me about this:

1) Changing anything in an existing franchise will always tick off the fans of that franchise, especially if you do it in an adaptation of a long-running franchise and not as a continuation of it (like the Marvel examples).

2) My cynicism sense is tingling, because this then really looks like an attempt to explore issues that people want explored or to add diversity that they want to have added in a case where they have a guaranteed audience, by attaching themselves to a popular franchise. So you get to make the points you want to make when people will watch, rather than building a franchise up yourself. It seems like trying to take the easy way to get what you want and not caring about ticking off the people who already liked the franchise and are the audience that you are exploiting to make your point.

Now, to make this work in an existing franchise, you have to make sure that you aren’t changing what made the franchise interesting in the first place, or to put it better you have to make sure that you don’t take away the things that make the audience want to watch it in the first place. If you’re going to change it that radically, then you might as well use a completely new franchise, or a spin off, instead of changing the main franchise. This goes double if you are doing an adaptation. And if you aren’t changing anything at all, then you definitely hit the bad kind of PC; introducing diversity for the sake of having it, not for the sake of doing anything with it. This works if you aren’t trying to add diversity, but if you’re doing it just to do it then at best you’re missing out on an opportunity and at worst you’re tokenizing.

So let’s look at the various suggestions in detail:

1) James Bond. I think that a black James Bond would work, if they simply decided to throw it open and look for the best person for the job, no matter what race it is. It wouldn’t change anything about the series, but that would be perfectly fine. But I would reasonably object to people saying something like “It’s time for a black James Bond”. No, it’s not. If the actor that they think works best in the traditional James Bond role happens to be black, that’s great. If not, that’s fine, too. There is nothing in James Bond that requires that he be black or any issues that we’d really want explored that require that he ever be black. So, if Idris Elba is the current actor that is best suited for Bond, then I say go for it, but if he isn’t and some white actor is better, then go for that.

That being said, I think that having a female James Bond is a very, very bad idea. The main premise of James Bond has been about this masculine ideal living the masculine ideal life, as we even saw in the “Our Man Bashir” parody of it. James Bond is supposed to be the guy that women want and men want to be. Making that a woman radically changes what I think is a fundamental part of the franchise and its popularity. Doing that is likely to reasonably alienate your audience. I have no problem with strong female leads — and tend to prefer them — but when I put on a James Bond movie that’s not what I’m after, just like when I put on a WWII documentary I’m not after action scenes with great special effects and when I watch the Transformers cartoons I’m not after a well-crafted and detailed story.

This is not to say that there aren’t interesting things that can be best explored in the action-spy game genre with a female protagonist. There are. But they can be best explored through new series that aim at that. Heck, you can even easily spin one off from the James Bond franchise, with a “The Spy Who Loved Me” kind of competition and then a new movie series that spins off from that to follow the female spy as she does her thing. And I’d love to see some of the suggested actresses do that. But I think it a bad idea to make James Bond that, as that takes away why people like James Bond in the first place.

While writing this, I thought of something interesting: I’m much less open to a female James Bond than I’d be to a female Maxwell Smart. The reason, though, is that Maxwell Smart being male isn’t as critical to the character, and changing Smart to be female adds a lot of new humour and parody opportunities that wouldn’t have to rely on the ones that Don Adams did so well. For example, you could start with the claim about James Bond that it’s the number and name that get reused, and give her the name “Maxwell Smart”, with the Chief apologetically saying that it’s what they do now and she’s the person best qualified for the job, which opens up a brand new running gag about people reacting to that fairly obviously male name. And there are a lot of different ways to translate the typical Smart traits to her, which would lead to a new and interestingly funny take on the issue. So I think doing that would lead to a traditional yet fresh take on Get Smart that could be very good, and I’d say better than the Carrell movie was, all because of the opportunities it affords.

The thing to note is that I suspect that a lot of the people crowing about how great a female James Bond would be would dislike the idea of making Maxwell Smart female (although, I haven’t looked at the reaction to the “Get Smart” movie, so I might be wrong). The reason I suspect this is because to make Smart Smart, you have to follow the traditional Smart traits, of essentially him being incompetent and yet competent just enough to make you believe that he’s a master spy in spite of his incompetence. This would mean putting a woman in a role where she’s incompetent, which a lot of the people who push for diversity don’t like. But if you make her competent and only play up that people think she’s incompetent, then you don’t have Get Smart anymore. And if you make her incompetent only because she’s inexperienced, you lose the semi-justified arrogance that Smart displayed. Making her Smart doesn’t mean making her a bimbo — because Adams’ smart wasn’t a “bimbo” — but it does mean making her less than competent. It’d be interesting to see if those calling for a female James Bond are willing to have a female incompetent Maxwell Smart as well.

2) Doctor Who. I also don’t see any problem with a black Doctor, treating that exactly the same way as I’d treat a black James Bond: if the best interested actor happens to be black, go with it. The issues around a female Doctor are a bit more complicated. My first thought was that we had seen female Time Lords in the past, and had had no real reason to think that the Doctor’s regenerations could change gender, and so then we didn’t want to turn this into another “Dax” thing with male and female memories in the same body and all of the issues around then when we’ve gone for decades without having to worry about it. But then in some random surfing I found that it is possible that one of the Master’s incarnations was female, which means that that’s already there. I’m still not convinced it’s something worth exploring in Doctor Who, though, especially considering the shortness of those series.

3) Annie. I’m not a big Annie fan, and so don’t have much to say. The purportedly clever move of making her black to reflect the least desirable adoption trait is clever if intended, but I think a lot was lost then in making Daddy Warbucks black to match, as that would add to the undesirability and allow an exploration of that sort of interracial type of situation. That being said, I can also see people being reasonably upset if they felt that red hair specifically was an important trait of Annie. I don’t think it is for Annie, but if they had done that in a remake, say, of “Anne of Green Gables” then I could understand people saying that the trait itself was important, and not just for what it reflected in the story. But I don’t know enough to say here.

4) Johnny Storm. Making Johnny Storm black raises the immediate question of him and Sue being siblings and how you handle that. In the comments, most people react dismissively to that by citing adoption or interracial marriage, but these are very, very risky. In the adoption case, since they are supposed to have such a close bond it developing through adoption puts that, at least, at risk. Remember, Sue is supposed to have raised him after their mother died (if I’m recalling correctly) and this way it says more about her than about their relationship. And them not being close in terms of race is something that cries out for an explanation, even if some assert that it happens. All that making Johnny black and not making Sue black does is raise issues and problems that likely need to be addressed for even a non-bigoted audience, and what is most damning about it is that all of these problems go away with one solution that almost no one suggests: making them both black. Why can’t they make Sue black as well and maintain all of those relationships and solve all those problems? It’s a sign of rank, PC cowardice to diversify Johnny and not take the obvious next step of doing the same thing to Sue. This is the sort of tokenizing that no one should want.

If they aren’t willing to make both Sue and Johnny black, why not make one of the other characters black? I suspect that many happy about Johnny being black would not be happy with making Ben Grimm black, since he’d end up going to orange and so not “really” being black. But this would be looking at the outside appearance and not the heart of the character. Surely there are interesting things you can do with a character whose outward appearance might have caused problems as well as benefits in the past now in a radically different appearance that has similar issues, and tie that even better in to the psychological issues that kept the Thing the Thing in canon. It’s only if you are shallow and advocate for tokens and not real characters that you can think that a black person in the Thing’s make-up has to end up as not really being black at all. But if you want to play it safe, why not make Reed black? It avoids almost all of the issues, makes him visible, and only has an interracial marriage angle to even be a bit of a problem, which probably isn’t. So, then, why Johnny, even as a token?

The key differentiator in FF is that they are a family. That family relationship starts from Sue and Johnny. There is no reason to risk convoluting that here, especially since there are other options. This is a bad idea and is tokenizing at best.

6) Doctor Strange. Why? Why a female Doctor Strange? You’d have to change a lot to make it work — like, potentially, Clea — and what does it add? Remember, this is an adaptation here, so why change this for the sake of changing it? What do you gain? If you want to explore a female Sorcerer Supreme type, why not introduce Clea and spin her off into her own movie to do that? All this will do is annoy people who wanted to see a Doctor Strange movie and do nothing else.

The last thing we should want is PC diversity, where it is done for show and not for substance. Either you go neutral or you go with what you have. Opposing PC diversity is not bigotry, but is something that we all should do, whether we are interested in Social Justice or just in a good movie.

The Traditional, again …

December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to the reader of this blog.

Don’t you mean the readers?

Nope, WordPress still says it’s pretty much just the one.