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

“What Do I Most Want to Rewatch” Ranking of the MCU movies

July 18, 2018

So, I’ve now mostly caught up to the MCU movies — at least the ones that are out on DVD — and so I thought it might be good to do a ranking of them from best to worst. Now, I’m going to steal a line from Chuck Sonnenberg and not try to rank them on the basis of which movie is objectively best. No, I’m going to rank them strictly on personal interest: which of them _I_ like the best. And, in fact, given that this is me and one of my main criteria for movies is whether or not I’d watch it again, I’m going to rank them with the primary criteria being which of them I most want to rewatch when it comes time for me to look for a movie to watch, with some other factors coming into play when the ranking is close.

Note that I’m only doing the MCU movies, and not Marvel movies as a whole, so this leaves out the X-Men movies and Spider-man movies, including Homecoming (because I haven’t seen it yet). I’m also not going to talk about “The Incredible Hulk”, because I haven’t seen it, either. If I was doing all of the Marvel movies, Deadpool would win by a landslide.

1 – Captain America: The Winter Soldier

As a movie, this is the one that I most want to rewatch, although the ending can drag a bit. It has good character dynamics, an interesting plot, a plot that ties into the overall plot of the MCU movies well, a plot that also has a strong personal connection to Cap, good new characters, and interesting revelations about some existing characters. It gives Maria Hill a chance to show off, Black Widow a chance to develop, and develops relationships between Cap and Falcon and Cap and Black Widow (the “Secure the engine room, then find me a date.” “I’m multitasking.” exchange is both funny and revealing) and even Cap and Fury. The action works well, the drama works well, and the movie hits the right notes with its humour, too, cracking the right jokes at the right times. Again, other than the ending dragging, it’s a good movie and one of the reasons that I think they actually managed to do Captain America right.

2 – Marvel’s The Avengers

Building off of the characters that were already established, this movie is just a plain fun movie to watch. The action works, the jokes work, the drama and interpersonal dynamics work. The plot is serviceable and Loki makes an interesting villain. One can nitpick over its flaws, but at the end of the day it’s really just entertaining.

3 – Captain America: Civil War

I don’t like it as much, and the ending drags even more than the ending to “The Winter Soldier”. But the action scenes are good and I really like the interaction between Vision and Wanda. It’s probably an average Avengers movie, which is how I consider it to be as opposed to a Captain America movie.

4 – Avengers: Age of Ultron

This carries on a lot of the themes from “The Avengers”, and so gets a boost from that. It’s also the bridge from “The Avengers” to “Civil War”, which makes it a movie that I rewatch when I want to watch those two movies again. But on its own it’s okay, decent, kinda entertaining. There are some good lines and scenes, but at the end of the day it just doesn’t do as much for me as the other three movies do.

5 – Guardians of the Galaxy

This movie is mostly a sci-fi comedy romp, which makes it entertaining to watch. But it is mostly disconnected from the greater MCU, which means I have no other reason to want to watch it, and the second movie isn’t as entertaining, so I have no reason to want to watch it as a precursor to watching that one. So I watch it when I’m in the mood for it, specifically, and it’s entertaining enough that that does indeed happen relatively frequently.

6 – Thor

I like the movie, but most importantly I also like “The Dark World”, which means that I get some push to watch it when I want to watch both. Unfortunately for it, I don’t care for either of those two movies as much as I like the other ones on this list, thus it has to be placed beneath them. It’s good, but not that good, and the movie that follows it is also good, but not that good.

7 – Captain America: The First Avenger

I found the movie okay the first time I watched it and liked it better the second time I watched it, but it has one major, fatal flaw: it’s not as good as “Winter Soldier” is. Well, okay, there’s another, probably more fatal flaw: I don’t need to watch it to follow “Winter Solider” or “Avengers”. Thus, watching it only makes me think about watching them instead, which means that I tend to think of that ahead of time and so go watch one of them instead. Good movie, but not as rewatchable as the others.

8 – Iron Man

Of the Iron Man movies, this is the one I like. However, the other movies appeal to me so little that not only do I generally not want to watch them, when I do think it might be nice to watch the entire trilogy having to watch the last two movies turns me off the idea. Which means that I rarely decide that I want to rewatch it, even though mentally I do think that it would be nice to rewatch it on occasion. It’s kinda like Mass Effect in that regard: I’d like to watch the first movie again, but that means watching the other two to watch the entire arc, and I don’t really want to watch the entire series just for what I liked about the first one.

9 – Ant-Man

I keep forgetting that I have this movie on DVD. The movie itself is good enough that it should probably be higher on this list — it should likely overtake “Iron Man” — except that it has no necessary link to any other movie that I own and anything else in the MCU. I just did rewatch it and it was fun, but that’s all it really is. It’s not good enough to be watched on its own and there is no reason to watch it to watch the better MCU movies. So, again, I keep forgetting it exists, which is why I don’t rewatch it. Duh.

10 – Thor: The Dark World

I like the movie, but it falls into the low end of “Good” just above “Meh”. That means that I don’t really have any reason to actually watch it specifically. So I only watch it when I watch “Thor”, and sometimes not even then. It doesn’t make me want to watch “Thor” again, and isn’t a movie that I need to watch if I myself decide to watch “Thor”, so it only comes into play when I want to sit down to watch “Thor” movies. And the third one is not appealing enough to make me do that.

11 – Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

As I commented when I watched it, it tries to do way too much, and nothing from the first movie really pushes you to watch this one. In short, it’s “The First Avenger”, only not as good a movie. It’s a “Meh” movie with little link to the other movies I have.

12 – Thor: Ragnarok

The same thing applies to this as applies to “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”: it’s a “Meh” movie that you don’t really need to watch to understand any of the other movies right now, and the other two movies don’t provide enough of a lead-in to make me care about watching the entire “Thor” trilogy. My impression of this might change when I rewatch it to get the parts I slept through, but the fact that I haven’t done that yet is a pretty damning indictment of it as a movie that I want to rewatch [grin].

13 – Doctor Strange

This is a solid “Meh” movie that I don’t need to watch for any of the better movies, since it came after them. There are serious problems with it and it isn’t the Doctor Strange movie I was hoping for. Right now, I have no idea when I might watch it again.

14 – Iron Man 2

I have no interest in watching the last two Iron Man movies, but this one is higher on the list because it is the first appearance of Black Widow and that interests me enough to consider watching it again, even though when I do I usually regret it.

15 – Iron Man 3

Since Black Widow isn’t in this movie, I usually just regret it when I rewatch this movie. I don’t think either of the movies are bad, but they just don’t really interest me.

16 – Black Panther

This movie has the same issue that I have with “The Force Awakens”: the more I think about the movie, the less I like it … which is what generated my long thoughts on the movie (which don’t even mention that I found his suit being entirely bulletproof a detriment for a melee combatant). I didn’t enjoy the movie the first time I watched it, liked it less the more I thought about it, and so have almost no desire to ever watch it again. It’s also disconnected from the main MCU and has no initial movie to drive a desire to see the next stage in the arc. I am as likely to watch it again as I am to watch TFA … or, actually, less so, because I might watch that when I watch all of the Star Wars movies, and that is not going to happen for “Black Panther”.


Thoughts on Black Panther (Formed Around Naps)

July 16, 2018

The last time I fell asleep while watching a Marvel movie I called my commentary on those movies “shallow”, because I didn’t get the entire experience and so it was harder for me to do a fair analysis of how it worked overall. So, my first thought when the same thing happened while watching “Black Panther” — to be fair, it had been very hot that week and I had spent quite a bit of time running around doing things that morning — my first inclination was to title this commentary post the same thing. Except that my thoughts on “Black Panther” are actually fairly deep, about fairly fundamental storytelling techniques that I think the movie completely missed. So despite my not really having the full picture, my thoughts aren’t going to be shallow. Hence the altered title.

Also, my overall impression of the movie is: Meh. I didn’t care all that much for it, to tell you the truth. More on that below the fold:


Character Blow-Up

July 11, 2018

So, recently, two Guild Wars 2 writers were fired over a blow-up on Twitter. While I first came across it in the comments section of two different sites — one each of left-wing and right-wing — I’m going to link to the Eurogamer article on it because it gives the most information and the links to the threads themselves. The topic of the Twitter thread that started this whole thing was about whether or not you can have memorable characters in an MMORPG or straight RPG, and how you need to write dialogue for characters in those genres. I’m going to talk about that, specifically, a little bit later in the post. However, my impression of what happened is that a Youtube content creator who happened to be a partner with ArenaNet — the company that makes Guild Wars 2 — to comment on how things are working replied to the Twitter thread with a comment that essentially said that it’s not about creating generic conversations, but is instead about making the conversations react to the character the player chooses. The writer — who happens to be a woman — then responded with a snarky comment about him telling her things she already knew, then created a separate thread basically suggesting that he only did that because he was a man and she was a woman despite her being experienced and an expert in the field, thus implying that it was sexism driving his response — specifically, mansplaining — and then responded to other comments on that topic with an even more snarky response that, again, seemed to be aimed precisely at taking exception because it was men who made the comments, and also that they were talking about something she already understood. Another employee defended her — mostly keying off of the argument that this was a personal account and so people shouldn’t reply to it for some reason — and then they were both fired.

So let me talk about that first. First, Denoir — the Youtuber — definitely had knowledge about the inner workings of games that the Price — the female writer — didn’t bother to check to see that he had. Second, he actually was someone that she kinda worked with, or at least someone who worked with her company, which she also didn’t bother to check on but did deny. Third, his comment was standard and the sort of comment that all sorts of people who talk about video games would make, including people like Shamus Young and even myself. Fourth, since she made it on a public forum and linked it back to a thread that was a discussion, it’s perfectly reasonable for people to respond to it. Fifth, just because she works in the industry doesn’t mean that she has that much more expertise than someone “rando”. After all, I personally have at least 20 years experience as a player of RPGs, and thus have quite a bit of knowledge and expertise on the experience of players playing the games. Thus, she can’t really ignore my experience just because she has 10 years experience as a writer, as I technically have more years of experience that is more directly related to player experience. Her appeal there would be nothing more than an invalid “Appeal to Authority” logical fallacy; even with her experience, she could be wrong, and even with my experience, I could be wrong, as well. Anyway, the summary is that someone replied to her Twitter thread disagreeing with her, she thought that it was something that was obvious, and replied angrily by, essentially, calling Denoir a mansplainer and thus at least implied that he was sexist, without being aware that he was officially associated with the company as well and without bothering to address his overall comment, on a forum where she could have expected public comment and feedback. I don’t think that Denoir was in the wrong here.

So, should she have been fired? Just for that, my comment would be “No”. If I was her boss, I would have said that if she is going to make comments like that she had better check to see how much experience the person she is replying to actually has, but that instead it would be far better for her to simply ignore any comments that she doesn’t think relevant, germane, or that she thinks she’s already covered or taken into consideration. There is really no cause for her to fire back multiple, snarky replies to a comment that, at its worst, is stating the obvious, even if it may not have been obvious that it was taken into account in her account. However, there might be other factors that are driving this that demanded the firing, but I can’t see what they are.

Okay, so let’s look at the debate itself. The originating Twitter thread is here, and Denoir’s reply is here. My summary of the debate is this: Price is saying that it is really hard to make the protagonists of MMORPGs, at least, memorable because the player is the one driving the character, and doing so more directly, and so you can’t really give them a set personality. I agree with this, as the main reason I couldn’t give a list of the top ten male characters like I did for female characters was because the male characters were the protagonists more often and so were more personalized, and thus weren’t really “characters” in that sense. She then goes on to talk about making them very generic, using Bella Swan as an example, and so making them what she calls a “blank space” so that the player can insert themselves into it. She then says that their lines have to be devoid of personality for the most part, because that would clash with the imagination of the player. Denoir’s response is that you don’t need to craft the conversations that way, but instead can make them reactive if you drop the idea that the conversations all have to lead to the same place (I presume meaning “response” in this case).

So let’s look at this in more detail. The first thing to note is that this is, well, a common question about RPGs in general, and not just MMORPGs (which Denoir points out). And it is interesting to note that, in general, this is a particular issue for Western-style RPGs, which have always been about character customization, which then leads to players being more attached to a specific character and so feeling that they should be able to act as they think that character would act. JRPGs, on the other hand, tend not to have as much character customization, and so have protagonists that have set personalities. There are some exceptions to this, though, where the protagonist doesn’t have much of a personality and the player can give some small set of responses to shape their personality. Persona 3 — and probably Persona 4 — are good examples of this, as the MCs themselves don’t seem to have a set personality and you can generally give snarky or serious responses to most situations, but in general those responses don’t have much impact on how things work out except for maybe the next response from the NPC, and so can be unsatisfying. This is one of the reasons why I prefer the female protagonist in P3P when I get the chance to play it, because she does seem to actually have a personality.

Now, of course, MMORPGs can’t really work the JRPG way, because it would be ridiculous to have an entire party of players who are all the exact same character. So everyone has to be different characters, and that leads to character customization. Given that starting point, the game is definitely going to move away from a defined character and more into a player-defined character. So, then, how is the game going to do that? Is it going to make every response simply generic in tone, or is it going to be more player-responsive?

The thing is that both Western RPGs and MMORPGs have actually gone for the “player-responsive” option. Bioware is the best example of that approach in both genres. The player gets to choose the options that their character says, and the dialogue is then shifted in tone to match what they were trying to say. The Witcher games, from what I’ve seen, do something similar, and yet actually manage to define a character despite the player having great input into what they do (and, as open-world games, are similar enough to MMORPGs so that the comparison works). And if you are going player-responsive, you don’t actually need to make the actual dialogue generic because you know what sort of personality the player is going for by what response they selected, and so can write the dialogue to reflect that. In fact, if you made it more generic it would hurt the dialogue, because it would feel like the dialogue isn’t actually taking your response into account.

Okay, but there are always going to be some cases where the player can’t choose what they say, such as with greetings and goodbyes and the like. Those have to be generic, right? Well, I’m not sure about that. If we just look at the Mass Effect games or The Old Republic, we can see that the use of a morality meter can, in fact, solve that problem, too. If the character over time is trending Dark Side or Renegade, you can make their initial lines more aggressive or gruff, while if they are going more Light Side or Paragon you can make them more kind and friendly. And you can even shift NPC reactions according to that reputation: if the character is more Dark Side or Renegade, the NPC can be more intimidated, frightened or disapproving depending on their own personal viewpoint, whereas if the character is more Light Side or Paragon you can have them do the opposite. If the character is Dark Side or Renegade, the NPCs can try to appeal to their self-interest, while if the character is Light Side or Paragon they can appeal to their desire to help others. Sure, all of this means recording more voice lines, but not overwhelmingly so, since the states are limited and some situations won’t need any different dialogue.

So it looks like a more player-responsive approach rather than a bland and generic one is doable, even for MMORPGs. Does Price realize this? Does she realize this and have a reason why it can’t be done as easily as I think it can? I have no idea, because she didn’t bother to actually respond to what Denoir said or find out what he was talking about, which is just another example of how Social Justice concerns can hurt game design and the discussion thereof.

Thoughts on Doctor Strange …

July 9, 2018

So, recently, I picked up a number of movies from the local Walmart. Among them was Doctor Strange, which is what I’m going to talk about in this post. I also finally broke down and picked up Rogue One and The Last Jedi, which I will watch and talk about at some point in the future. Maybe I shouldn’t have rewarded the Star Wars franchise that I now feel disconnected from with my dollars, especially since from all I’ve heard I am going to absolutely hate The Last Jedi. It’s not like it’s proven itself worthy of being given a second chance, especially since I’m pretty sure it blew its second chance, and deliberately so. At any rate, I’ll see if it’s as bad as I think it’s going to be.

So, onto Doctor Strange. Which, like most Marvel movies lately, turned out to be decidedly “Meh”.


Thoughts on Season 1 of Dynasty …

July 2, 2018

So, a few years ago I bought and watched the entire series of Dallas, which I had watched when I was young. I enjoyed re-watching it. It reminded me, though, that the other big show we watched was Dynasty, which was pretty clearly inspired by and tried to capitalize on the success of Dallas. I started looking around for the DVDs of that show, and not long ago I managed to find it. I started watching it, and have just completed the first season, and want to stop and talk a bit about it now because the show in the first season is quite a bit different than I remember it, and I want to talk about it before seeing where they do with the second season.

In general, I remembered the series being where the Carringtons were generally the “good guys” facing off with the main antagonist being Alexis, played by Joan Collins. Alexis does not appear in the show until the second season (and she ends up appearing for the first time, but likely not played by Joan Collins given how hard they tried to hide her face) and it seems that the show was trying to make Blake Carrington the J.R. analogue of the show. Blake is ruthless, manipulative, shady, has a strong temper and commits a number of questionable to downright nasty actions throughout the first season. This clashes with my overall impression of him as generally being a good guy from what I remembered. After all, he shamelessly has his chauffeur beaten up when he discovers that he is sleeping with his daughter, is unabashedly trying to drive a competitor out of business and even seems willing to use sabotage to do so, and at one point attempts to rape or even possibly rapes his wife, Krystal, after he finds out that while she was talking about how much she wanted a child with him she was still taking birth control pills. This is not a character that we are supposed to find sympathetic.

And yet, I find that I can’t really help but find him sympathetic. Part of the issue is that the character that it seems that we’re supposed to favour, Matthew Bleisdel, is in fact pretty unsympathetic. The first problem with the character is that compared to, well, pretty much every other character in the show the character and actor have no charisma. Blake is played by John Forsythe, who was also the voice of Charlie from multiple Charlie’s Angels incarnations and simply oozes charisma. Matthew’s partner, Walter, is played by Dale Robertson, also is a lot more charismatic and it seems to me would have made a far better foil for J.R. than the Cliff Barnes character and actor did. Bleisdel’s wife, Claudia, is played by Pamela Bellwood and she is a lot more interesting to watch, both as a character and as an actor, and the character even manages to seduce someone straight (seriously: Stephen Carrington is set up at the beginning to be gay and just having left a gay relationship, but when the two of them first meet there’s an obvious mutual attraction and they end up having an affair, even though Stephen spends the night with his former lover at one point). Stephen isn’t very charismatic but has an interesting storyline. Fallon, played by Pamela Sue Martin, is attractive and, while annoying, is annoying in just the right way for it to be a character trait and not an issue. The only other character as relatively dull as him are Fallon’s soon-to-be-husband, Jeff Colby … and he’s supposed to be. It’s hard for us to care about Bleisdel when all of the other characters are more interesting and have more interesting storylines.

Another problem is Krystal. Linda Evans is perfectly cast as the former secretary who finds herself thrust into the world of the rich and powerful. She has a different moral code than they do — in fact, you could argue that the big difference is that she actually has one — and this allows us to see that develop. She’s attractive enough that we can see what Blake would like about her but plain enough to stand out against the other characters. But she is often very intuitive, and sees something in Blake. This leads us to think that unless she’s just that wrong or naive that Blake is not really all that bad, and is in fact in general, overall, good, but simply ruthless. Krystal is not Sue Ellen, a long suffering wife staying with her husband mainly for show and for the things she can get from him. She might have developed that, but she isn’t that yet. And so we tend to be willing to give Blake the same benefit of the doubt that she does. Sure, J.R. had his moments, too, but pretty much everyone knew that outside of his own family he couldn’t give a damn … and sometimes not even that. Blake’s not there yet.

And another problem is Matthew’s previous relationship with Krystal, and the fact that he, in general, is willing to aggressively pursue it … even while trying to reconcile with his wife — whom, I repeat, we generally like a lot better than we like him — after begging her to return to the family after she spent some time in a mental hospital, was working on her own, and didn’t feel ready. Doing that doesn’t make us inclined to like him, and when he finds out Claudia had an affair with Stephen he is enraged … but it comes off as hypocritical given that a) he had had an affair with Krystal while still married to Claudia (she was in the mental hospital at the time, I believe) and b) that he was still trying to have an affair with Krystal at the time. About the only thing that you can say good about his character is that, in general, he is willing to listen to Stephen and doesn’t hold his homosexuality against him … all of which is nullified by him shafting Claudia who, from the start, is equally sympathetic towards Stephen and, again, much more likeable.

The show can’t turn Blake into a J.R. style villain without a Bobby to play off of. Matthew cannot fill that role. Thus, I think in the second season the show will start to turn it into the show I remember, where Alexis is the J.R. style villain and Blake is the Bobby that plays off of that. We’ll see if I’m right.

Other than that, I like the show, but the dialogue in the first season is often absolutely atrocious. Hopefully that too will improve as the series goes along.

Thoughts on “The Decisive Duel: Spitfire vs 109”

June 25, 2018

So, a while back — while I was watching “Frasier”, actually — I was read a book called “The Decisive Duel: Spitfire vs 109” by David Isby, talking about the development of the two main fighters of WWII and their “duel” throughout WWII. I picked it up originally because I generally like discussions about the air war and air power and general, and it was recommended by Andrew Roberts, who had written “The Storm of War” which I also remembered liking (although I mixed that book up with “War at Sea” by Nathan Miller, which made me think that it was the same kind of book but only from the perspective of the air war, which made me more inclined to read it).

After reading it, I have to say that I liked the book. The best part of it is the descriptions of the moves and counter-moves and thus the many, many different variations of each plane as they tried to find the best planes for the specific problems they had to address and to counter improvements made by the other side whenever they managed to get any kind of actual advantage. And the specifics of each fighter’s design played a huge role in not only what they did there, but also if they even could counter that advantage, and the overall design of each fighter was actually very dependent on the overall experience and personality of their main designers. The 109 was the way it was because of Messerschmitt’s experience and interests, and that at times gave it an advantage but also caused serious issues with future designs, for example. It also talks about other issues around the duel, like cost, production ability, and even tactics, all of which come together to give a larger overall idea of what the air war in WWII really entailed.

While the “Battle of Britain” is, of course, important and covered in detail in the book, it goes on past that until the end of the war, and it’s interesting to see just how much of the duel carries on past that crucial engagement. The Spitfire and 109 continued to duel past that point, and both continued to be modified in reaction to each other until the very end of the war.

I, personally, found that the book often devolved into long technical discussions that didn’t really interest me, but this isn’t a criticism of the book. Given the subject matter, you pretty much had to expect that they were going to need to do that, and in general the technical discussions are relevant to the overall story of the duel. So it’s just a warning that if you do read that book to be prepared for technical discussions if that isn’t your cup of tea.

Overall, I liked the book and will almost certainly read it again at some point … but probably not while watching Frasier [grin].

First Thoughts on Persona …

June 20, 2018

Okay, I already started playing this once already, but I’m replaying it now over four years later and so figure it would be good to talk about it again, especially since I can think about it in the context of general Persona-style games and see how it holds up. So, what do I think of it?

There are a number of things that struck me as being pretty much the same as the modern games. Particularly, the music. The battle music and even the dungeon music are tracks that wouldn’t be out of place in the modern games despite the fact that Persona came out in 1996. And the style still works, both in that game and in the modern games, and it provides some nice continuity between the games. Just listening to the music makes you feel that yes, you’re playing a Persona game.

However, as I noted four years ago, I really hate the dungeons. It isn’t always clear where you’re supposed to go, and the spell card system and negotiation isn’t all that obvious, and that’s the only way to get new Persona. Unlike four years ago, I actually managed to succeed at it once — I think Nanjo bribed them into it — but the issue is that you have multiple characters and multiple actions each character can take and it isn’t obvious which combinations work. I think that you need to max out their enthusiasm to get them as a Persona, but I’m still not sure. Plus, I think that the same action might not have the same result later in the conversation for whatever reason, since I think that happened to me once. This is not a good system for someone who is going to play it for 3 hours Saturday and Sunday afternoons and come back to it next weekend. This is also not a good system if you’re worried about losing XP in order to get a new Persona. This, however, also has the issue that you can max out your starting Persona and then need new Persona, but might not have the dungeons really available to get them or be able to create new ones. I’m really, really worried that in my next dungeon they’ll expect me to simply have better Persona and I won’t be able to get to the Velvet Room to merge new ones, even if I manage to learn to do the negotiation properly. I might have to return to SEBEC, if I can, to fix that. But then grinding that way would be boring as well.

It doesn’t help that the combat is less interesting as well, because targeting weaknesses doesn’t give you as much of a benefit as the later games do. There have been a number of cases where using another ability actually kills the enemies faster than using the ability they are weak to does. So it ends up being rinse-and-repeat with your more powerful abilities … until you hit a group that mops the floor with you, when you haven’t saved and now are panicked that your level is too low and you won’t be able to finish the game.

This game doesn’t do the explicit S-links of later Persona games and its compatriots like Blue Reflection, so it isn’t entirely fair to compare them. Party members join and leave as per the plot and while you can make choices in reaction to things they’ve talked about I’m not sure what impact that might have. The game talks about you choosing your path and so these things possibly mattering, but I’m not sure if they do yet or not. That being said, compared to the games roughly in the same genre as the Persona games, Persona still seems to have a pretty good story. Sure, I already know it from the Persona 4tw series, but there are still some interesting moments in it. I think the story and story presentation has improved in the later Persona games, but it still holds up and is interesting here. I just wish I didn’t have to spend so much time wandering the dungeons to get to it.

I’m really, really trying to finish the game off this time and it’s the top game on my list, so it’s pretty likely that the only thing that will get me to stop playing it is getting stuck somewhere in a dungeon. So you can see why that’s concerning me [grin]. Still, I estimate that it will take me at least another month to finish it. We’ll see if I can take it for that long.

Thoughts on some old “favourties”

June 18, 2018

So, recently, I re-read a couple of books that I had read a few years ago and found interesting: “The Holy Kingdom” by Adrian Gilbert and “The Last Knight” by Norman F. Cantor. In fact, I remembered both of them so fondly that I was excited to get a chance — or, rather, to deliberately plan — to read them again. And yet, both of them disappointed me. They certainly weren’t as good as I remembered them to be.

One of the main reasons for this, I think, is that both of them are decidedly one-sided. “The Holy Kingdom” focuses on the theory that King Arthur was really two different historical figures and was of Welsh origin. The former is a very interesting idea, and Gilbert at least tries to provide good sources that theory, but it is interspersed with numerous shots at the traditional English historians for being biased against Welsh history. This might be true, but reading that makes me skeptical that the assessment is totally fair, and thus only makes me feel that in order to accept their overall views I’d need to go and do more research myself. And I don’t have the time to do that, so my reading feels incomplete, while at the same time the asides don’t add anything to the book for me. Sure, they are used as answers to the question of why no one noticed these things before, but “They just don’t want to see it!” no longer counts as sufficient reason for me. They may well be doing that, but they might also have reasons for rejecting it. I would have preferred more direct replies rather than asides saying that their opponents were just being obstinate.

“The Last Knight” focuses on the life of John of Gaunt. Or, rather, it focuses on what we can say about England in the Middle Ages based on how he lived his life. In reality, though, it far more often wants to talk about sexual mores and link John of Gaunt to modern billionaires than to really focus on either John of Gaunt’s life or on the details of medieval society. This results in the most interesting part of the book — the titular “Last Knight” — getting short shrift in what it purportedly his own book. The book is also very repetitive, saying the exact same things in the exact same way even in the span of a few pages. There is no examination in depth of pretty much anything, either the times or the people or John of Gaunt himself. There are a number of interesting links that are drawn, but they are so shallowly examined that, again, all they do is make me want to delve into the topic in much more detail, which I again don’t have the time to do, and his constant comments about elites grate after a while.

The books aren’t terrible books. “The Holy Kingdom” does make its case and the two Arthur theory is interesting, and “The Last Knight” does reveal some interesting things about the Middle Ages. But I guess I have to say that both of them aren’t the sort of work that I’m really looking for right now, or else the other books I’ve read have eclipsed them. It also might be that I’m more skeptical than I used to be and so am looking for works that really take on their opponents in the fairest and strongest ways possible. Either way, they aren’t as much fun to read as I remembered and so I don’t think I’ll feel the same zeal to re-read them as I did this time.

Next up is me reading a book that I’m pretty sure I never finished reading: an abridged version of Gibbon’s “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”. I wonder if the abridging is what is causing my struggle to read that book …

Thoughts on “The Real Ghostbusters”

June 11, 2018

So, I finished watching “The Real Ghostbusters”. And, at least at first, it was surprisingly entertaining to watch.

The key conceit of the show is that this follows the adventures of the “real” Ghostbusters, whom the movies are based upon. This is, in fact, explicitly mentioned in-show. As such, they can do a lot of things with the characters and even shift their roles around a bit without really impacting the movie universe or limiting it in any way. This is how Winston gets character development into a more rounded character, and one with more direct roles and strengths than you see in the movies, like his love of mysteries, baseball and automobiles and auto mechanics. It also lets them make Peter a bit less shady, show more heart, and explain why he tended to be a bit of a grifter in the movies (his father was like that, only much worse). They can go into Ray’s background a bit more, and develop the romance between Janine and Egon, and, yes, even develop Janine’s character a bit more.

The format lends itself to a wide variety of situations, as it did for “The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo”. Since they’re tracking ghosts explicitly but are experts on all sorts of supernatural phenomena, there’s a lot to work with there. They were able to get in a Star Trek parody by having a ghost appear on a space station, did cartoon worlds multiple times, did superheroes twice, and managed to fit in vampires and werewolves, again the former multiple times. They were also able to tap into a wide variety of mythical ghost legends — like the origin of Hallowe’en, again done multiple times — and classical hauntings, like haunted houses. And yet they were often able to bring a new twist to them, like having a house haunted by a ghost who only wanted to tell his beloved niece that he loved her one last time, or a house haunted by a mystery writer who wanted her last story to be finished. And there was generally plenty of room in all of these for snark, humour, parody and heartwarming moments.

I suppose I must comment on the shift in the character of Janine, at the rest of the executives, into a softer, more appealing, and less abrasive character. I, personally, like the softened Janine better, but concede that, yeah, she’s not really Janine anymore at that point. It would have worked better if they had done that from the beginning instead of shifting to it after the first season or so, even though that let JMS write an episode explaining it as her wishing changes to herself because Egon, at least, never noticed her otherwise, which was a good episode. That being said, I think the shift was a good idea, as it actually gave Janine a distinct role in the show, that being of the more kind and concerned person on the team that was lacking. Cynical and sarcastic Janine was entertaining, but the cast already had more than enough snark, and just having her be there for the snark battles with Peter and the love interest with Egon wasn’t really going to do much. Sure, I think they underused her after the shift, but it did give her a distinct personality and role that we could relate to, whereas snarky Janine was more one-dimensional.

Also, people ignore that Peter himself was softened at the same time, being far nicer to Slimer and, in general, far less shady and money-obsessed than he was in the earlier seasons, which I think was a good thing.

I think that Egon, though, was the character that advanced the most. He pretty much became the main leader character of the team, mostly because he was the one who knew everything about the ghosts and so always came up with the plans. He developed his own sense of humour and even snark, and was generally entertaining. I think his development explains why Peter faded into the background a bit more in later seasons when in the movies he tended to be the focus character.

The show, however, went completely downhill when it became “Slimer! And the Real Ghostbusters”. Not only was there more of a focus on Slimer in the main show — which took away from what was really interesting — it also played havoc with the episode lengths. At first, they went with one Real Ghostbusters episode that was about five minutes longer, but that didn’t work because they usually didn’t have enough episode to fill out the time, so it seemed like it dragged. Then, they did two Real Ghostbusters shorts, but that didn’t work because they were too short and so didn’t have all the elements that made the show entertaining in the first place. By the time it reset to normal length episodes, they seemed to be mainly out of ideas and the creative spark seemed to be lost. There were still some good episodes, but overall it really lost the magic that it had had in the earlier seasons. By the end, like with “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”, I just wanted to get through the rest and move on to something else.

Still, it was entertaining enough, especially the early episodes, which are often fantastic. And since this was already a re-watch, I will almost certainly watch it again at some point.

Thoughts on Darth Plagueis

June 6, 2018

So, recently, I read the Star Wars Legends book “Darth Plagueis” by James Luceno. I’ve liked a lot of his stuff before, so it was worth giving this a try. Anyway, the book follows Darth Sideous’ mentor Darth Plagueis, his researches into life and death, and the relationship between the two, including the reasons for the main plot that Sideous follows on with in the PT — that leads to establishing the Empire — and how that all gets started.

What’s good about the book is that it does, indeed, fill in a number of details about how that all works and worked out, including why Naboo had a 14 year old elected Queen at the time, as well as what this was all supposed to achieve, and why there was taxation of trade routes and why that all mattered … and, in fact, why that dispute would lead to civil war. In short, the taxation of trade routes was a minor issue, but Plagueis and Sideous had already manipulated things so that the galaxy was being divided up into factions based on self-interest, and the Naboo situation struck directly at those divisions of self-interest. The taxation wasn’t that important, but which of the two sides managed to “win” was, as the other side would feel hard done by which would cause issues.

It also goes into the backstory of Sideous a bit more, showing how he progressed from a minor political figure on Naboo into becoming a Sith Lord. I think this has all or mostly been eliminated by the new works, but it was interesting, even if Sideous’ specific background isn’t all that interesting for a Sith Lord, paling in comparison to characters like Bane or Vader or Revan. It also goes into the backstory of how Sideous found Maul, which again I think has been eliminated by new media, but is interesting enough.

The main problem with the work, though, is that while it helps establish Sideous as a villain by making the overarching villainous plot make sense and by filling in the details — and also by showing the political machinations required to pull it off — it also hurts his character because most of the plot was devised by Plagueis, not him. Sideous shows some but limited political skill throughout the entire book; the big moves are all orchestrated by Plaugeis. This, of course, can explain Sideous’ at least potential mistakes and why he didn’t foresee the end that befell him, but in terms of the overarching plot it seems that for the most part his role is like what would happen if Darth Maul had killed Sideous and taken over his plan: Sideous runs the plan that was already set into motion by Plagueis, but for the most part is only slightly more competent at those sorts of manipulations as Maul would be. I really would have liked that to be more of a partnership than it was, with Plagueis having more Force knowledge while Sideous had the political knowledge, and Sideous deciding to take out Plagueis when he thought that Plagueis had no more to teach him.

That being said, the book at least spells out a clear goal for the Sith, something that they wanted to achieve, which is more than we can say for the PT (beyond “rule the galaxy”).

Darth Plagueis was a decent book, and I’d likely read it again.