Archive for the ‘Not-So-Casual Commentary’ Category

Thoughts After Re-Reading the Malloreon

June 26, 2017

So, I finished re-reading the Malloreon. As expected, as the quest shifted away from simply chasing Zandramas and instead trying to fulfill the necessary conditions for their “side” to win, things went a lot better. Unfortunately, though, a lot of the things that happened in that quest seemed a bit pointless. There were only a few real plot points to chase in the quest, and the rest seemed like doing things because Eddings wanted to do them, not so much because they were important overall. The “repetition of events” part particularly suffers from this, because often it seems like the events happen only to support the idea of repetition, and not because they fit into the story as a reasonable and necessary repetition.

It also suffers because Zandramas is an utterly uninteresting antagonist. Both Urvon and Agachak have more interesting backgrounds and a better link to the main characters and overall plot, and yet they only appear as hindrances to the main characters and as potential hindrances to Zandramas despite ultimately being no real threat to anyone. And Zandramas’ constant attempts to circumvent the choice just ended up being really annoying. She’s not particularly powerful, clever, or even has an interesting personality to play off of. They don’t really interact with her on any level until the end — there are a few short scenes before that — and she has no real history. Facing her at the end is utterly anti-climactic, and that could have worked if after the final skirmish she had accepted her role and waited for the choice — and so faded out of the story — but instead they are constantly defending against her schemes. This even hurts the final choice because it wasn’t established what the big choice was and it is implied that Zandramas attempts to influence Cyradis’ mind and thus make her doubt what the choice ought to be, which is a really shallow way to have the choice be in doubt. And given how much Zandramas cheats and how evil the Dark Spirit is supposed to be, there’s really no reason for Cyradis to be wondering about the choice, especially after traveling with Garion for so long. There is a hint that evil might pretend to be good, but the evil side is flat-out evil and Garion and Eriond are obviously good, so that doesn’t work. There’s a hint that the choice is a problem because Cyradis, for the first time, can’t rely on looking into the future to settle it, but that’s glossed over so quickly that it really doesn’t add to the choice at all.

That being said, I think the side characters and discussions are better here. Zakath is an interesting character and foil/companion for Garion, Sadi and Zith are interesting, and the Silk/Velvet interaction is interesting . Beldin and Belgarath get into some interesting banter, although at times it seems out of place since what they are really interested in is other things, and so it’s a distraction. But simply reading parts of it works really well.

At the end of the it all, despite the flaws, it’s better than pretty much all of the works I read in my Hugo Award analysis (parts of the Imperial Radch trilogy work as well as things in the series, but overall this one is still better). But the real question is: which of the Belgariad and the Malloreon do I now find to be the better work? There are definitely parts of the Malloreon that I like better, and it seemed less rushed at the end, but then again it seemed to use the extra length poorly, making things seem to drag and be irrelevant. I really like the lore parts of the Belgariad, which are missing in the Malloreon. At this point, my conclusion is … neither. I can see why someone might prefer one over the other, but it seems to me that they are both good and bad in different ways, mostly, despite having similar styles, the same characters, and similar stories. I’d re-read them both again, but they both have serious flaws.

Thoughts After Re-watching .hack//Sign and Liminality

June 21, 2017

The first anime that I really watched and really got into was almost certainly “.hack//Sign” and “.hack//Liminality”. Well, I might have watched “Sailor Moon” and “Yu-Gi-Oh” first, but in general I thought of those as cartoons rather than as anime, and really didn’t realize or understand what anime was at the time. Sign and Liminality, on the the other hand, were clearly anime. And while I still don’t really watch a lot of anime, it was them that made me realize that such things existed and were worth watching.

How did I get into them? Well, the “.hack” games came out on the PS2, which I owned at the time, and as a JRPG fan I found the premise and gameplay interesting enough to give it a try. The games came with Liminality, and since I had them anyway I might as well have started watching them. And I enjoyed them, which is what I think gave me the push to give Sign a try. And I really enjoyed Sign.

The key here is that the plot of Liminality and Sign is not exactly interesting. I mean, it’s a fleshing out of a plot for a JRPG that wouldn’t be nominated as one of the best plots ever made for a JRPG. The premise of something going on in an MMO-world that was impacting people in the real world was different, but there’s not that much that you can do with that plot-wise. And Liminality and Sign, to their credit, didn’t try. Instead, they both focus on characters and character interactions, with the plot being little more than a big picture that has a major impact on the lives of the main characters, Liminality in the outside world, and Sign in the MMO-world.

And that’s what grabbed me about the series, and grabbed me this time, too. While this time Tsukasa annoyed far more than I think he did the previous time I watched it, and BT’s duplicity also grated more, Subaru and Bear and Mimiru were as intriguing as ever, and I found a new appreciation for Crim. In Liminality, while Yuki really annoyed me I really liked Mai and Tokuoka, and so was willing to sit there and watch them do various things in an attempt to make things better.

This time through, the last disk of Sign was a bit of a slog to get through, which also happens to be the point where they move from characterization to having to rapidly advance the plot. I preferred the general character interactions, and loved the callbacks to previous character moments, like BT echoing Bear’s “I’m gentle, but not a pushover” line from, I think, the first episode later in the series. I didn’t feel that way about Liminality … but then that one was only four episodes long, so the last episode still had character moments and enough plot to keeo things going.

I managed to get through three of the four games in the series and had started the fourth, and mused about playing it again recently. But, all in all, I think the animes worked better. But maybe I’ll play it again and change my mind.

Re-Reading the Malloreon

June 19, 2017

So, after re-reading the Belgariad, I have now moved on to re-reading the Malloreon. I was really interested in seeing what my impressions of the Malloreon were this time, because I remembered liking it better than the Belgariad — although, again, it wasn’t my favourite Eddings series — and I wanted to see if, this time, that impression would hold up.

The beginning was … disappointing. It started with the same kind of homey, simple life establishing the relationships and the basic story line like the Belgariad — focusing on Eriond for part and Belgarion’s being a king and his various issues around that — but a lot of the time that seemed dull and problems seemed to be invented for the sake of having some kind of problem to deal with, so they could explore the characters (like the incident in Arendia and the problems between Belgarion and Ce’Nedra). Admittedly, the early parts of the Belgariad weren’t particularly riveting either, but I think it had two main advantages. The first is that it was our introduction to the characters, and learning about them could be used to hold our interest. In the Malloreon, we pretty much already knew the characters except for Eriond, and Eriond is not a particularly interesting character, although he’s likable enough. The second reason is that the Belgariad was also filling us in on a lot of the lore of the world, which I personally found interesting and intriguing. Again, that’s already mostly been done for us in the Malloreon, and the new parts are part of the big mystery of the work, and so aren’t really explored early in the series. So the first part, up until they start on their big quest, seemed to drag for me.

Once the quest gets going, though, I still think I like it better than the Belgariad’s quest. It’s more focused, and doesn’t have anywhere near as many side issues as we had during the Belgariad. Also, for the most part it’s dealing with one overarching mystery and quest that’s already set out, unlike the Belgariad’s quest to find the Orb mixed in with finding the king and and his wife and then setting off again to find Torak. By the time the introduction stops dragging, we know that they have to find Geran and head off to another confrontation with a Child of Dark. Also, the main personalities of the characters are established and so Eddings adds a couple of new characters to the mix, which makes things different but still allows us to think of Silk as Silk, for example.

However, I’m just at the end of the third book and the quest really seems like it’s starting to drag itself. The problem is that the entire third book doesn’t really seem like it actually does anything, or anything interesting. If Eddings had really positioned it as “They’re hunting for Geran and get caught up in this demon thing because they need Zakath on their side and he can’t leave due to the plague”, then it might have worked, but as it is the plague seems to be mostly irrelevant at this point, a plot point introduced to move the plot along and add a minor inconvenience, and the demon sub-plot, while related to the main plot, is something they get dragged into rather than something they have to take on directly. Add to that that Ce’Nedra’s and Garion’s manipulation by Zandramas is old hat at this point and so doesn’t really add any drama, and I was really wondering what the point of all of this really was, other than to extend the work. On top of that, Zandramas faces off with Garion a couple of times in the quest but every time the confrontation is totally anti-climactic: a minor battle in dragon form, a confrontation that Cyradis heads off, and at the very end of the third book a confrontation that Poledra heads off. The confrontations seem to add little, and for the most part keep driving home that nothing can happen in those confrontations because at least Zandramas risks losing, as does Garion. So why keep having them face each other if nothing can come of it? At least the cat and mouse game where Zandramas tries to delay or mislead them and Belgarath and the others have to work around that would be interesting, if it actually focused on that. But even the thing that most angered Belgarath — cutting out the relevant sections of the book he needed to find out what was going — wasn’t actually Zandramas’ doing, but was instead Torak’s. Thus, the main villain of the work has really done little if anything to impede her enemies and to seem like an actual threat, other than her having Garion’s son.

That being said, up until the last quarter or so of the third book I was indeed enjoying the quest. It’s only there that I start feeling that we have artificial drama and problems, and that the chase seems to have gone on for far too long already. It might have been better if instead of having the Orb be able to track Zandramas, they instead had to try to chase her by finding clues and deciphering the prophecies that she was following. That way, the side events could be more easily woven into the story, and I wouldn’t feel like they’ve been chasing her specifically for far too long.

I’ll have to see what my feelings are on the work after reading the last two books.

The burning question of Persona 5 …

June 9, 2017

So, now that I’ve finished it and read around online a bit about it and talked a lot about Social Justice angles wrt Persona 5, seemingly the key question is this: should Persona 5 or Persona 6 have a female protagonist?

Note that there are two main ways to do a female protagonist in this series, and the Persona series has done both. First, you can give the player the choice of whether or not they want to play as a male or female protagonist, which is what they did with P3P. The other way is to create a game that only has a female protagonist, which they did with Maya in Persona 2: Eternal Punishment. So, since they’ve done both before, surely they could do at least one of them again, either in an extended Persona 5 — which given P3 FES and P4 Golden is almost certain to happen — or in Persona 6. So let’s look at how and if that might work.

In Persona 5, there are a lot of anime cinematics. If you wanted to give the player a choice of protagonist, you’d have to do scenes for both the male and female protagonist. Also, you’d have to make sure that any line that refers to “he” is also re-voiced to use “he” or “she” for the appropriate protagonist, or else try very hard to never actually do that like they do for the protagonist’s name, which is going to be a lot more work. And then you might have to rework a number of the S-links, including the dating ones, allowing pretty much any character to be romanceable — and thus have Christmas and Valentine’s Day scenes reflecting that — if you don’t go the better route of rewriting them to make sense for male and female protagonists. For example, Iwai is far less likely to involve a teenage girl in his conflicts with the Yakuza and Ohya is not all that likely to pretend that she is dating a female protagonist to hide the fact that she’s investigating her partner’s disappearance (even if she leaned that way). In short, making a dual protagonist is a lot of work, and some story elements won’t work as well if you do that. So, in general, I think that for the most part they should pick one and have that as the main for the entire series. While I enjoyed the option in P3P — and found that the female protagonist was a more interesting character than the male one — I can see that adding the option again would be too much work for what you’d get out of it.

Okay, so then should Persona 6 go with a female protagonist? At first blush, my first thought was that it wouldn’t be a problem at all, given how much I liked the female protagonist in P3P. But on reflection, I noted that it would cost me something that I really liked about the Persona series: the ability to react to it roughly like how _I_ would have reacted to it, including who I hang around with and, importantly, who I dated. Obviously, with a female protagonist I wouldn’t be able to do that, and so would have to base it entirely on what character I was playing at the time. Which isn’t generally a problem for me, but it would take something away from the Persona series that’s pretty unique for me.

Now, people can say — rightly — that at that point I’d know how female players feel wrt the series, since they don’t get that. And that’s a fair point. But the issue here is that, for me, the Persona series has been that way for me for so long that I wouldn’t quite get the feel from Persona 6 if they did this that I got from the other games, which can’t help but feel like a let down. While I’d almost certainly be okay with it, other fans might not. Thus, that might hurt sales or the impression people have of the game and the series, which will hurt the franchise. Are there going to be enough female gamers deciding to jump onto it now for their unique experience to make it worth the risk? I doubt it, personally.

And so I think the best advice here is to let Team Persona decide what they want to do with the series. If they want to tell a story that works best with a male protagonist, let them. If they want to tell a story that works best with a female protagonist, let them. And if people really want to see a Persona-like series with a female protagonist then starting a new series with that is the way to go. After all, we’ve seen a number of these “dating/life sim JRPGs” starting up since Persona 3 at least partly rode that to success, and so a game that takes the Persona elements but starts with a female protagonist from the start should be do-able, if there’s a sufficient market for it. And since if it is done well there’s a good chance that I’d buy it and play it, this would be the ultimate chance to prove that, yes, there’s a market for these kind of games.

I suspect that the typical “Social Justice” objector will bristle at this suggestion, but hopefully some company will think that maybe they can get some mileage out of this — if the market is really there.

Thoughts After Re-Reading “The Belgariad”

June 5, 2017

So, I recently finished re-reading “The Belgariad” by David Eddings. What I found was that the work was interesting and generally entertaining, but that the end seemed both rushed and to drag, which is a marvelous achievement for an author [grin].

The reason, I think, is that we had a relatively long, slow-paced, and lore-enriched opening quest, where Garion leaves the farm where he grew up and sets off with Polgara, Belgarath, and the rest to retrieve the Orb from Torak’s minions and return it to Riva, which then gets settled … and then almost immediately thereafter after some small plot events — the betrothal to Ce’Nedra, for example — Garion, Belgarath and Silk head out again for the final confrontation. Which is, as we all know, the main event driving the entire series, which means that it has the most importance of pretty much everything. Unfortunately, it can only involve a small number of characters and there isn’t really anything all that interesting to do in that quest; the whole point is for them to get to Torak as quickly and silently as possible, with as little fuss as they can. Throwing major obstacles at them would both pad out the length — and Eddings says in the intro to the Mallorean that there were length constraints on the Belgariad that were relaxed for the Mallorean — and start to get a little ridiculous given how few people they had; either Belgarath and Belgarion blast their way through all enemies, making the obstacles not obstacles, or else their problems would be ridiculously constrained to the non-magic skills that Silk, Belgarath and Garion happened to have.

So, to avoid this and to keep everyone else in the mix, Eddings instead seems to take a page from “The Lord of the Rings” and has Polgara, Ce’Nedra and the Western kings muster a large army to distract the enemy from Belarion and the others. Which isn’t a bad idea, but we know that this army is nothing more than a distraction, but it takes up a lot of space in the book without us finding out all that much that’s interesting. There are moments of humour and characterization, but they are few and far between and the battle itself is a bit anti-climactic given what its nature was. And, again, that’s not necessarily a bad thing but it seems to take up too much time relative to the important quest, which then gets short-shrift. And then having Polgara, Errand, Ce’Nedra and Durnik arrive at the final confrontation for reasons of Prophecy seems to make the battle scene even more pointless. All the really important stuff happens in the final confrontation, and so the details of and lead up to the battle seems like padding, while the part where they travel to the final confrontation seems like it just happens with little build-up or attention.

However, as I said, the book is still enjoyable. What Eddings does really well is build lore around the world, which is why he managed to squeeze two five book series and two prequels out of that world and that lore. The characters are generally archetypical but interesting, and fit into the world well. Eddings does manage to fit a good bit of humour into the work, which is nice.

I’m now re-reading “The Mallorean”.

Re-reading the Belgariad …

June 2, 2017

So, this comment in this post from Shamus Young resonated with me:

It has been bugging me for years: maybe the problem isn’t the games. Maybe it’s me.

Now, I never really had this for games, because with games I was generally able to like some and dislike some of both old and new games, and also because with games I was usually able to figure out and outline exactly where I felt the new games were going wrong and where the old games had gone right, leading to the conclusion that a lot of modern games really weren’t as good as older games, for all of their technical wizardry. I felt the same way about TV shows and movies, although I was a bit concerned about the fact that I rarely laughed out loud anymore, even at comedies (this was clearly broken when it came to “WKRP in Cincinnati”).

But after doing the Hugo Award Assessment, , and noting that the only books I really read were movie and TV show tie-ins, it did get me wondering if it was just nostalgia, or if the older books really were better than the newer ones. That was a reason to re-read “The Status Civilization”, after having already re-read Zelazny’s Amber series because I needed to remind myself of what happened in it for an Amber Diceless game that I was running. But in David Eddings’ “The Belgariad”, I faced my greatest test yet. Of the three series that he had completed when I started reading them — along with all of my friends in high school — the “Elenium” was my favourite. I also recalled trying to re-read it a year or so ago and finding it a bit clunky. So I was prepared for frustration when I read it, but needed stuff to read and wanted to go through all of the Eddings books — including “Belgarath the Sorcerer” and “Polgara the Sorceress”, which I definitely liked — to both keep my reading time occupied and to, well, re-read those series that I recalled liking at some point. So with trepidation I started reading it and …

… came to the conclusion that it was just really entertaining.

I’m not sure what changed. Maybe it just was my mind having that comparison to works that were incredibly clunky and boring that the minor issues with the “Belgariad” faded away. But, at any rate, it was far more enjoyable and worked so much better than any of the “Hugo Award” nominees, including the ones that the anti-Puppies really liked. And as far as I can tell it didn’t actually win any awards.

And it’s not like the series is male-dominated. One of the most powerful beings in the world is a woman, Polgara, and she’s actually presented as being more competent than Belgarath, even if he’s more powerful and more tricky. There tends to be a bit of a give and take between men and women in the series, even if men often take more than they probably should. So it’s not really male power fantasy either. It seems like a series that even the Social Justice side in fantasy could enjoy, so it’s not like I enjoy it because it avoids or rejects those lines.

So what’s good about it? The characters are entertaining, and the history is detailed and told in an interesting way. The plot is a little shaky, but the links to that deep history make up for that. The plot, then, fades into the background and instead is replaced by interesting characters walking their way through the history and, in fact, creating history themselves by fulfilling the prophecy. The world is properly detailed and we find out things about it when we need to and in interesting and compelling ways rather than it being a complete info dump for no reason. Sure, the introductory prologues could be seen as that, but that’s why it’s a prologue: it gives you the information you need to know in an interesting format if you like history.

So, so far, I’m pleasantly surprised. I’m enjoying reading it much more than I expected. And since I liked “The Mallorean” better — or, at least, remember it more fondly — this bodes well for my reading of everything Eddings did that I liked.

Thoughts on Persona 5 After Playing it Twice

May 26, 2017

I’ve played Persona 5 on “Easy” and finished it twice. I have already put almost 150 hours into the game in the two months since I got it. And yet … I could start a third game, right now, and the only reason I’m not doing that is that I need my weekends and weekend afternoons back to handle mounting work pressure and other projects that I really need to start working on, and so only have about four hours a week to play video games, which would mean that it would take me five months to finish. Which either means that I’d have to keep interested in the game for that long and not want to play anything else or, more likely, that I’d decide to play Persona 5 in the times when I really, really should be doing something else. So, I have to put it away for a while.

But that, to me, is the beauty and wonder of the Persona games. No other game series has had that quality, where I can simply restart the game and keep playing it for hours and hours and hours. I have easily put over 1000 hours into Persona 3 and Persona 4 combined, and almost certainly will play them again at some point in the future. I will indeed play Persona 5 again. If they release a P5 Golden or FES or whatever version of this game, I will buy it and play it. I am quite likely to, at some point, play it with a main character based on Phil Coulson from “Agents of SHIELD”, which is the big temptation I have right now. For whatever reason, the combination of the life/dating simulation where S-links balance with the main plot — and impact it — and also balance with a relatively easy and painless battle system — on “Easy” — that you still have to think about if you want to be at all efficient and so isn’t generally simple “Just hit them until they go away” really, really resonates with me. And the Persona series does this better than any other game series I’ve ever played, including Conception II and even Trails of Cold Steel, which I tried but ended up stopping because the second class trip paired me up with characters and conflicts that I didn’t care for. And it’s social aspects aren’t as strong as Persona’s either.

So, the Persona series has an embarrassment of riches at this point: a game built around three aspects that all generally work and where a significant number of gamers will really like at least one of them, and where all of these elements improve from game to game. But this, it seems to me, is potentially causing issues for the series, since the improvements end up making each aspect more complicated and more prominent in each game. If you really like or can at least tolerate all three aspects, these improvements are good for you across the board; you’ll just like the game better because everything in it got better. But if you don’t like one of the aspects, then the increasing complexity and prominence and importance of the elements will likely bore and annoy you. For me, the combat and dungeons are the least interesting parts of the game, and so often, especially on my second run, I found myself slogging through and generally dreading the palaces, to say nothing of Mementos, which I found incredibly boring. But I liked the S-links and even the other activities, and both wish there were more of them and that I could focus on them earlier (especially the activities) because at the end I was looking forward to finishing the game — I needed to finish it on the long weekend to, again, be ready to do all of the other things — and so ended up deciding that it wasn’t really worth trying to learn them and take extra time that I might need to finish the final fight. Which, BTW, I remember being a slog but which was much easier this time, especially considering that I managed to figure out that you can attack the final boss’ extra arms. The first time through, I focused on the main boss and then had to keep taking all the extra attacks, but here I managed to let Ann and Makoto kill off most of the arms to prevent that.

But, any way, back on topic. The thing is, as the combat and bosses and dungeons get more complicated, people who were willing to put up with it to get back to the things that really interest them might not be so willing anymore. One of the reasons that I don’t go back to Persona 3 as often is because the dungeons are, in general, more about grinding than anything else, and the grinding is, in general, very boring for me. But in reading around on this game, there are a number of people complaining about the life simulator and S-link portions. As these get more prominent and more detailed, these divides are going to get even sharper, as more and more people find at least one part of the game that annoys them but that they are forced to go through if they want to go through the parts they, well, actually like. The worst case scenario is that everyone really likes one part of the game and hates the other parts, making the game feel mediocre at best. That’s not going to ensure the long-term success of the series.

The best way to counter this would be to make the other elements far more optional, where there is limited need to delve into them if you don’t want to. However, Persona 5 makes things more integrated, as the S-links provide great benefits for dungeon crawling and Mementos is required for S-links, for example. If this continues — and it seems likely to — then the exact opposite will happen; each element will be more integrated and so more necessary to do in order to complete the game. So either the game will have to make each element be more interesting to people in general or people will feel that they have to or at least are encouraged to do those other elements that they dislike in order to advance in the game. Or, as I call it, grinding. The former risks losing what made some people like them in the first place, and the latter is generally boring and annoying.

Persona 5 is a good game, but it doesn’t seem to me to have the same feel as the other games. It often feels like it’s merely emulating features and storylines from the previous games rather than adding to them or using them properly. Makoto is a shallower version of Mitsuru, for the most part (and note, before anyone complains, I really like Makoto as a character, and romanced her exclusively my second time through and enjoyed every bit of it. But her role in the game and in her S-link is very much a simpler and shallower version of Mitsuru, without the arranged marriage part that appeared in Haru’s). Sojiro, Futaba, and your becoming a member of the family is a less emotional version of Dojima and Nanako from Persona 4. The negotiation, brought back from Person and/or Persona 2, is more shallow and less fun (I have played both Persona and Persona 2: Innocent Sin, albeit briefly). There are a lot of plot and S-link and gameplay references to previous games, but they don’t really seem to capture what was great about them. I guess there was a push for some of this because of the anniversary (20th, I believe) but I don’t think it really did this game a favour by failing to capture the spirit of what made those parts memorable and demanded by the audience.

Still, Persona 5 is a worthy Persona game. I look forward to putting over 500 hours into it over the course of the next few years, like I did for the previous games. This game, itself, will make buying the PS4 worth the price.

Thoughts on “WKRP in Cincinnati”

May 24, 2017

So, as I’ve already mentioned, I’ve been watching “WKRP in Cincinnati”. I had seen the complete series DVDs before in a number of places, and was always tempted to buy and watch them, but in the end was worried that I wouldn’t enjoy watching it. Finally, though, the price was right and I figured that I’d finally give it a shot.

And in the first season my fears were proven baseless. I laughed at loud at times, which is rare for me, and in general the show was enjoyable. That … didn’t hold up for the second and third seasons, which I found much less humorous and far more boring. The issue, it seems to me, is that they tried to put far too serious plots into the show, but the plots weren’t monumental enough to carry the load. They had done it previous for “The Concert”, where they talked about an incident where someone was killed because of a rush to get non-reserved seating, but that episode worked because the structure was a funny first part and then a very serious second part. While that wouldn’t be one of my favourite episodes, it worked well for what they were trying. The episode where Venus had to turn himself in for deserting from the Army also worked well. But in the second and third seasons the plots didn’t seem strong enough to catch the interest, but were too prominent to ignore and focus on the humour. That made for some very dull episodes.

An example of this is the episode where Jennifer buys a house. There’s a lot of room here for simple jokes and oddities, but the episode ruins that by lumping way too much on Jennifer. Her mere presence causes her neighbours to divorce after a lot of time is spent on the wife complaining about her husband, Jennifer’s piano is lost and takes out a car, Les goes on about how her house is likely haunted, there’s a visit from someone from the phone company who ends up being some kind of stalker or something, and as it turns out the block is going to be taken over for office buildings or something anyway. At the end, Jennifer is simply devastated. Now, if Jennifer was the typical rich and popular woman that everything always goes right for and who acts like it, this could work … but in general she’s nice and cares about her fellow employees. So we don’t really get a comeuppance from the plot, but the plot is so serious it tends to drown out the humour. Even the very end, where Jennifer pays back Les for the ghost stories, doesn’t seem to make sense. She does an excellent job of playing up the ghost story and scaring Les, but the problem is that it doesn’t work for Les’ character. What she did would be justifiable if Les was deliberately making up a story to try to scare her, but that doesn’t seem like something that Les would do. It’s much more reasonable that his quirky nature includes his believing that there really are ghosts in the house and going on about that a bit more effusively than he really should. But if that’s the case, then what Jennifer did to him is just her being mean, which is out of character for her. So, in general, someone is being excessively mean there, and that doesn’t work given what we know of them.

Which brings me to why and when WKRP really works: when it focuses on the characters and their natural interactions. A lot of the time in seasons two and three the characters were inconsistent. Bailey was treated the worst; it seemed that they had no idea what to do with her character and so she flip-flopped a lot between differing personality types. But Les was another victim of this, wavering between being mean-spirited and quirky. The plots also were, in general, more than ways to get the characters to interact, and that really hurt what made the show good in the first place.

However, in season four they returned to the previous model and the episodes were much, much better. I enjoyed season four as much as I enjoyed season one, despite going into it wondering if I’d even finish watching the series. So, in short, seasons one and four were great, and seasons two and three were very weak. Overall, it was worth watching.

Thoughts on “Mindswap”

May 22, 2017

So the last of Sheckley’s books that I have and will talk about is “Mindswap”. Unfortunately, here we’re going from one of Sheckley’s best to what may well be Sheckley’s worst.

The problem here is that there’s just too much packed into it to make Sheckley’s normal quick pacing work. The book starts from the idea of people using “mind swaps” to travel, by getting their minds transferred into the bodies of other beings. And those are definitely other beings, because the galaxy, at least, has been explored and we’ve run into a number of alien species, including Martians. These two ideas, in and of themselves, offer a wealth of avenues to explore. But Sheckley doesn’t stop there. He adds in a plot where a young person — of around 30 years — wants to explore, and ends up getting swindled and losing his body, and so needed to find some other body within 6 days, which he does by offering to work for it, which is another idea that’s worthy of exploration. So the main character has to try to find a way back to Earth and recover his body, while exploring a number of different planets, cultures, and alien bodies, with the help of an eccentric detective who pops in every so often to remind us that he’s there. Oh, and there’s a bit of a twist ending that needs to be set-up, on top of that. Along with a semi-romance.

There’s just way too much here for this to work. Because there’s so much, the little details can’t all pay off like they did in “Immortality, Inc”, and so most of them are merely interesting asides. But there’s so much plot and drama and strange cultural explorations happening that we can’t just follow the main character’s life like we could in “The Status Civilization”. You can argue that this was meant to be more a humourous exploration of those different cultures, but that could have been achieved easily just by using the main character’s wanderlust instead of adding on the “Recover my own body!” plot.

In the end, reading the book made me feel that things were unfocused. The exploration parts seemed extraneous while he was supposed to be looking for a way home, the main plot gets resolved in a very shallow manner, the twist ending comes out of nowhere (even though it was foreshadowed), and the romance goes nowhere. There’s really nothing in the book that’s worth paying attention to or watching. It both drags and moves too quickly. There are some interesting scenes, but beyond that every other book of Sheckley’s that I’ve talked about is far, far better than this one.

Persona 5 vs Dragon Age: Inquisition

May 17, 2017

So, my first run of Persona 5 took me about 80 hours, and when it was done I immediately started playing it again (and am now just over half-way through). I also put about that much time into my first run of Dragon Age: Inquisition, and yet said that if I never play it again, it will be too soon. So what explains the difference here? Why is it that I can get through two 80 hour runs of Persona 5 without feeling incredibly bored and frustrated, but couldn’t make it through one of DA:I without feeling that way?

One of the big issues is what I was doing that dragged out that time. In Persona 5, in general I’m following the story and building S-links. In DA:I, I was generally doing the area quests to ensure that I had enough experience and enough levels to be able to continue the story, while stopping occasionally to talk to people and run War Council missions. Thus, DA:I felt like grinding to me: doing things that I didn’t find fun just to be able to do the main story content, which greatly spread out the story content, which meant that the story content always felt like a bit of an aside; it was important and definitely prominent, but I spent so much more of my game not doing it than doing it. About the only things that I had to grind were the personal stats, which I didn’t need to do at all in the replay because they carried over. For the dungeons, on “Easy” going through the story missions killing everything in sight and then going into Mementos and wandering through it only to finish the requests gave me enough XP to beat the game relatively comfortably. So I never felt the need to actually grind.

The other thing is that there’s just so much to do in Persona 5. Even grinding out your stats can be done in varied and more or less interesting ways, from direct working out or reading to S-links to fun activities. Sure, you want to focus on the most bang for your buck, but there’s still a lot of choice and a lot of ways to get things done. In DA:I, while there are a number of things to do the big ones are simple non-story-related quests, where you go out and kill and find things until you have enough and then do it over again until there are no missions left. So there’s not all that much choice over what you want to do, and you can’t really decide to skip the things you really dislike and focus on things you like more unless you’re sure that you don’t need them for XP, influence, or items.

Ultimately, when I play Persona 5 it is very easy to just keep playing because I always want to do something else, either advance an S-link, advance an ability, clear a story dungeon, complete Mementos requests, or whatever. In DA:I, most of the time I had one goal: clear the quests out of that area. That goal, in general, took long enough to feel like grinding and didn’t really seem to give any kind of closure or satisfaction when it was completed. Instead, I just moved on to the next one or on to the story mission as appropriate. In Persona 5, the goals tended to be shorter, and gave me a sense of completion when I finished it. That’s why DA:I felt like grinding and Persona 5 doesn’t.