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

Final Thoughts on Friday the 13th, The Series

February 13, 2017

So, after finishing Charmed, I went back to and finished Friday the 13th, The Series. And it’s interesting to watch it after watching Charmed, because they take a similar premise but explore it in different ways, with Charmed being much lighter and not having the depth in the supernatural explanations, but having much better production values and acting, while Friday the 13th has a better overall premise and in general a better grasp of the supernatural elements, but has in general fairly bad production values and acting. Chris Wiggins, who plays Jack Marshak, is generally good, but Robe, who plays Mickey, is uneven. The actor who plays Ryan is generally serviceable, and the actor who plays his replacement Johnny is okay, but mostly because he’s playing a stock character that isn’t that hard to do. The worst, though, tend to be the guest stars; some performances are good, but some are just awful. The scripts often seem awkward, as is the dialogue, but the backgrounds of the cursed objects tend to be interesting. It’s almost the anti-Charmed in a lot of ways: decent backstories for the supernatural elements, a focus on them rather than on the relationships between the leads, a very dark tone, but poor production values, dialogue, and acting.

The first two seasons are better than the third one, especially the last few episodes. Towards the end, you tended to get two types of episodes: episodes that were using the supernatural element as a framework to tell another type of story, and episodes the reveled in the evil and debauchery. As an example of the former, the episode “Jack-in-the-Box” focuses more on the mother and daughter dealing — badly — with their grief over the murder of the father, but most of it could have been done and has been done in standard dramatic series; the Jack-in-the-Box and the murders the little girl does with them are an aside to the story. For the latter, in the earlier seasons, there were more where the objects seemed to corrupt those who owned and used them, and more morally ambiguous cases, while in the later seasons for the most part those who used the items tended to be evil before getting it and just used it to fulfill their evil ends. Sure, that’s an important aspect of the show, but not to be focused on. And the last episode is about the Marquis de Sade, with Mickey writing about how charismatic he is, ramping up the focus on evil and what might well be called the prurient interest, which made the episodes less interesting to watch.

That being said, it’s was still an interesting show. I’d like to see it tried again with better production values, writing and acting, but I think it would end up more like the third season than like an improved version of the first. I might watch this series again.

First Thoughts on Trails of Cold Steel

February 6, 2017

So, I’ve started playing Trails of Cold Steel on the Vita, and so far it’s entertaining enough, but I think it suffers from a problem that I’ve been having with new games lately: For the most part, it reminds me of other games that are better or that I’d rather play than it.

The character models and how they work in cutscenes really remind me of Suikoden III. The calendar dates and how they move remind me of Persona 3 and Persona 4, as does the concept of “Bonding Events”. The Bonding Events themselves remind me a lot of Conception II, as does the dungeon crawling (although, so far, it’s less grindy). The problem is that Suikoden III is far more open world then Trails of Cold Steel is, the dates matter more in the Personas since you have a daily routine, and also the character relationships matter more because you have to find the time to spend with whomever you want to spend time with, and you get immediate in-game benefits for advancing S-links, and the dating relationships are deeper, at least so far, in Conception II. All of this means that the game keeps reminding me of better or deeper games that I could be playing instead. That’s not the way to create a pleasant gaming experience [grin].

I think part of the issue is that I’d like to see more games borrow some of the good elements from my old favourites, but few of those games end up doing more with the elements. Instead, they end up including them, but making them more shallow and providing less depth while providing little to nothing new to compensate. This, then, leads you to see those elements, think fondly of them … and then recall that there were other games that did them better. If a game does something new or takes the original ideas and does something unique with them, then that doesn’t trigger. Lost Dimension is probably the best example of this, as it takes the standard JRPG combat and social link tropes and uses them in a unique way by adding in the traitor element. Trails of Cold Steel doesn’t do that.

That being said, the game is still entertaining. The biggest issue other than the above is that too much is hidden. It isn’t clear what the bonding points and events are going to give me and what the consequences of doing a Bonding Event with one character or another will actually mean in the long run. It suffers from having a very set character with a set personality and even a clear hint of a relationship thing forming with Alisa while leaving it up to you to decide who to talk to — for the most part — in the free days you get. There’s not enough vagueness in the character to make that have meaning, and again the game is not clear on what the consequences of your choices are. Also, there are Hidden Quests for you to do, but it isn’t clear on what doing them actually does for you. Thus, in order to avoid missing out on something really, really cool, I’m using a walkthrough to ensure that I get everything. This is less than fun.

But the characters are interesting, for the most part. I find myself liking Laura a lot, and also Emma and Alisa. Jusis and Machias are annoying — but are supposed to be — and the others are interesting enough, if Fie is too eccentric for my tastes. The quests are relatively interesting, and the Field Trips to different places breaks things up enough to add to it as well. The story is just developing, and I hope they can deliver on all the things they’ve promised.

Tropes vs Women: Sinister Seductress

February 1, 2017

The next video of Anita Sarkeesian’s that I’d like to examine is the one on the “Sinister Seductress”. To be honest, on re-reading it to post about it it seems to me that Sarkeesian kinda mailed this one in. It bridges different topics on the matter as if they could easily be subsumed under the same topic, but doesn’t really work to do that. Sure, there’s potentially a link between using sexual elements in a disturbing way to bring horror and using a sexually seductive exterior to hide an inner horror, which you can link to female characters and particularly villains using sexuality to achieve their ends, but the main problem is that using sexuality to generate horror is quite different than using it as a tactic and plot element to show how a female villain achieves her ends, and even the horror cases rely on radically different elements in order to achieve their end. Getting from those disparate tropes to one overwhelming case is going to be tough …

With all of these character types, their femaleness or sexuality is an intrinsic part of what is intended to make them dangerous or repulsive. As a result, when male heroes defeat them, their victory is often explicitly gendered, emphasizing that the male protagonist has overcome the female threat and reasserted his dominance and control.

Of course, it’s entirely possible to have female villains who don’t reinforce the idea that female sexuality or femaleness itself is threatening or repulsive.

… unless, of course, you simply assert that the main thrust behind these disparate elements is an attempt to make femaleness or female sexuality repulsive or dangerous. Then you can do it without, well, really arguing for or understanding why these elements are used.

Let’s look at how Sarkeesian talks about the first element, in talking about Doom 3’s Vagary:

One of those new monsters was the Vagary, a monstrosity with the upper half of a naked woman and the lower half of a giant spider, who also happens to be pregnant with a demon fetus in her abdomen.

It’s no mistake that the Vagary blends female sexuality and fertility with elements designed to be unsettling or horrifying. The book The Making of Doom 3 reveals that the game’s creative team summed up the driving concept for the Vagary with the equation, “sexy + gross = creepy.” What the makers of Doom 3 may not have realized is that this equation was in no way new, original, or innovative. On the contrary, by singling out the Vagary, the only female enemy in the game, for her gender and using this to make her uniquely repulsive, the designers were participating in a very long tradition of creating female creatures who function to demonize femaleness itself.

Well, chances are that they already realized the link between sexual attraction and disgust that can be an important element in horror. If you take something that the viewer or player would normally find sexually attractive and pervert it in such a way that it is, in fact, disgusting, that can engender a specific horror reaction; one reacts stronger to the disgust than one would to something that is just merely disgusting. But the main reason for this is that it is the juxtaposition of the highly appealing and desirable sexual elements with the gross ones; normally, one would find it incredibly appealing, but not in the way it has been presented. In that sense it doesn’t serve to demonize femaleness because it relies on us, in fact, revering it. It can be argued that this works better for female sexuality than for male because in general neither men nor women find female sexuality — at least sexual presentations — inherently disgusting, but both men and women find male sexuality itself inherently disgusting and/or something to be feared. It’s only if you wouldn’t normally find, for example, naked breasts on your screen something disgusting, to be feared, or to be looked away from that your urge to look away now strikes you as particularly horrifying. Thus, it relies on female sexuality not being demonized.

And this carries on to the second category, which is the externally sexually desirable exterior hiding the monster inside. If people — men particularly — spend a lot of time and effort to try to get sex from them, it ends up changing from someone getting something wonderful to having that all utterly dashed by evil, which then feeds into the horror. However, the link between this and female sexuality in particular is a little weak. Sarkeesian lists some examples:

Among the most famous female mythological creatures are the Sirens, whose voices were irresistibly alluring to men who sailed near their island and heard their songs. But the music of the Sirens was as dangerous as it was captivating, and the sailors who were seduced by the sound soon found themselves shipwrecked and stranded. Some interpretations characterize the Sirens as cannibals who murdered the shipwrecked men and feasted on their flesh.

And there are endless other mythological creatures created explicitly to demonize women such as the succubus: a female demon who sexually lures and seduces men; the harpy: a screeching bird creature with the face of a woman; and of course the classic witch, a dangerous myth that resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of real women across Europe and the American colonies in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Well, first, I’d like to point out the oddity of listing “witches” here, when later Sarkeesian again talks about how great and non-stereotypical Kreia from KotOR 2 is … despite her being old, unattractive, harsh, and someone who relies heavily on magic and, in fact, often “black” magic (Dark Side powers). Sure, she’s arguably Grey, but her powers lean more Dark Side than Light Side, as you’d expect from, well, the main villain of the piece. How is it that Kreia is non-stereotypical, while someone like Morinth from Mass Effect 2 is, and how does Kreia escape critical analysis as the main villain — and, for a long time, a party member — while Morinth, an option side character gets called out as being particularly problematic? Even when, as Shamus Young says her potential introduction is clearly a major plot point for the character you’re really supposed to recruit, recruiting her is something that almost no characters have any reason to do — good characters won’t want to recruit a psychopath over a space paladin, and evil characters have no reason to trust to want to put up with Morinth’s tendencies — and the main victim — given much empathy through dialogue with various characters — and the only one that has to be involved is a woman. Sarkeesian would have much more reason to complain about Samara’s outfit than about Morinth (which, yes, Shamus complains about as well).

Second, there are no shortage of male monsters that fulfill similar lines. For example, we have a direct link from succubi to incubi, which is the male version and works in pretty much the same way. And mixes of human and monster are often seen as, well, monstrous, and so are often used in horror. You can’t get from harpies to demonization of femaleness.

And finally, while she mentions the Sirens, she ignores the long standing ur-example of the “monster behind the incredibly attractive mask”: vampires. Despite being a self-identified Buffy the Vampire Slayer enthusiast. At any rate, the prototypical vampire is a strangely attractive man who seduces women and kills or turns them into his servants. While I’m sure that Sarkeesian can find some misogyny there, what she can’t find is demonization of female sexuality in the vampire itself. It is more reasonable to think of vampires as representing what was the worst view of male sexuality: the outwardly charming exterior that hides the demon inside that defiles the innocent women who fall for it.

Now, I’m not going to argue that vampires demonize male sexuality, because that would be a stupid argument. What I am going to argue is that the mix of sex and monsters, titillation and horror, is a long standing and effective on in horror, that has nothing to do with demonizing sexuality. Like the first case, it relies on sexuality being desirable to be the bait in the trap, and the horror often comes from the conflicting feelings of attraction and fear. There’s a reason why a lot of vampire seduction scenes are, in fact, so seductive.

So, we have to turn then to the final category and the one that is most related to the title of the video: female villains that use their sexuality to their advantage in order to get what they want:

This tradition of sexualized, evil women in the temptress mold includes characters ranging from the Dark Queen of the Battletoads games to Elizebet from Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2. In Hitman: Absolution, if players track the target, Layla, to a secret room in the penthouse, she strips for Agent 47 in an attempt to distract him before drawing a gun and trying to kill him.

The problem with these representations is not that they depict female characters who are sexual. It’s the way that sexuality is presented, as a threat or a weapon rather than as something to be enjoyed by these women and those they choose to consensually share it with. It’s a false notion of female sexuality rooted in ancient misogynistic ideas about women as deceptive and evil.

Um, except that these women are aware that they are attractive, are aware that they can use that to get what they want, and are not averse to using it to get what they want. Morinth is a bad example because she wasn’t a psychopath just using sex to get what she wanted — killing people — but instead was someone who needed to feed on people. She’s definitely more in the “vampire” camp than the “vamp” camp. But all of these women villains are, in fact, comfortable with their sex and sexuality, so much so that they are willing to use it to their advantage whenever it would do so. The standard criticism of this dynamic is actually the opposite, that it presents the world as “bad girls” are comfortable with — and enjoy — their sexuality in any way they can while “good girls” save it for marriage or for “the right man”. But these “bad girls” in fact treat their sexuality more the way Sarkeesian would want them to, despite her protests otherwise.

Once again, Sarkeesian misunderstands the tropes she is criticizing, to the point of criticizing one trope for the things that she ought to like instead of the things she ought not to like. Given this, it is unlikely that she could change these tropes to something that would maintain the purpose of the tropes and thus the unique elements they provide while removing the things that she finds problematic, because she finds the use of any aspect of the trope itself problematic, not the problematic elements themselves. But these tropes exist and are popular for reasons, and I am not convinced that the reasons Sarkeesian asserts for their popularity are the right ones, to say the least.

Final Thoughts On Charmed

January 30, 2017

After finishing it, I pretty much stand by my initial statement: the series falls in-between Charlie’s Angels and Buffy/Angel.

Part of this reason for this is that it doesn’t seem to me that the writing is particularly good. They seemed to try to set up a lot of little plot and character threads — especially in the later seasons — and then try to wrap all of them up in the last few episodes. But there were always too many of them, and so most of the time everything just seemed rushed and not properly closed. The worst, for me, was the Season 6 finale and the start of Season 7, but even the last episode ran into this. Sure, showing Leo and Piper as grandparents was nice, but it was too short to work as a finale-defining moment for them and didn’t fit well enough into the plot — ie it didn’t do anything wrt the plot — to come across as anything other than that, and they had to quickly resolve all of the plot threads, including getting Billie to kill Christy, which then had little impact because it was both so sudden and they didn’t follow up on Billie’s obvious grief and problems from having to do that. Which they couldn’t do because the episode and series was almost over.

This, I think, is also driven by their attempts to develop the supernatural plots more than they started out doing. In the early seasons, for the most part the supernatural was the backdrop against which the personal problems of the witches were displayed and developed, but later the details of demons, warlocks, the Elders, the Avatars, and so on and so forth were explored more. While this made the show deeper, they also did indeed keep the personal problems as well, leaving all of those various issues in need of resolution, with none really being more important to the series than the others. This made for very crowded seasons.

That being said, I don’t think they could have kept that focus on the personal issues of the Charmed Ones because even with the show not having that as the sole focus their personal problems wore thin. The problem here was that they didn’t really turn those problems into personality traits, showing how them having those problems came critically from who they are, and then using those traits as plot points. Instead, they kept revisiting the problems, and so they never really evolved all that much in the series. Your mileage may vary on this point, but to me it really seemed like they kept doing the same problems over and over again.

I think the problem with Billie suffered from this repetitiveness as well. At the start, you had Phoebe in love with being a witch, Piper wanting to be normal, and Prue kinda in between. Then Paige replaced Prue and you had Paige excited about her powers, Piper still wanting to be normal, and Phoebe somewhere in between. At the point where Billie entered, she came in with the same annoying “I love my powers and love kicking demon butt!” attitude, but while Paige was trying to rein her in, it was really the same story over again — and the same lessons — in someone who wasn’t a Charmed One at all. We’d seen it all before and Billie didn’t tie as tightly to the sisters and so we didn’t even have that three-way conflict to balance it out.

The worst part, though, was all of the times that the problems in the episodes were created by the sisters abusing magic in a way that they ought to have known would cause problems because it did all the other times. Most of the time, it was their own stupidity that got them in trouble, and less the amazingly intelligent machinations of their enemies. So many problems could have been avoided by the sisters talking to each other, not casting dangerous magic, or admitting that they had when they did. It got annoying over time.

That being said, it’s definitely watchable. The plots are interesting enough to give a focus to the episodes, the characters are interesting enough to not bore, and are all pretty easy on the eyes. As I said, between Charlie’s Angels and Buffy/Angel.

Tropes vs Women: All the Slender Ladies

January 25, 2017

After a few months off because I was really busy, let me return to my discussions of Anita Sarkeesian’s “Tropes vs Women” series. In this one, Sarkeesian takes on body diversity and laments that it seems that there are a variety of male body types represented but that the women are all slender and arguably traditionally attractive.

Now, I’m not going to argue against body diversity. I really like the fact that when creating a character you can create using a wide variety of body types, faces, costumes, and so on and so forth. This was one of the best things about “City of Heroes”, as allowing that allowed for various superheroes and superheroines, with various powers and backstories, and even allowed you to emulate more heroes that you would otherwise. So while I’m not going to agree with Sarkeesian’s standard tough line about it all being so that they can be sexually appealing to straight male players, I think that having the choice of a wide variety of body types is good, whether that be for your male, female, or invited transgender species characters.

So there might not be much to talk about … oh:

When female characters’ bodies are liberated from the need to uphold narrow, limiting cultural beauty standards, the resulting range of representations can not only make games themselves more interesting; it can encourage us to see all women as the desirable, autonomous, fully human individuals that we are.

So this is about more than just allowing people to build their characters as they see fit, and in some sense being able to see people like themselves in games. We’re supposed to see women of all body types as desirable. This means that we aren’t going to give people the choice when building their characters, but are instead going to create characters with those body types and put them in those roles regardless of what the player — or society — really thinks someone in that role should be like.

To highlight the potential problem with this, let’s look at her examples of male body diversity. Specifically, let’s look at Street Fighter:

In Ultra Street Fighter IV, characters such as Dhalsim, Hakan, E. Honda, Rufus and Vega represent a significant range of male body types.

Except … these were pretty much all cultural or racial stereotypes. E. Honda is heavy because he’s the stereotypical sumo wrestler. Dhalsim, down to his powers, is a stereotype of India, and likely Hindu mysticism. Vega is a stereotypical Spaniard. Arguing that these represent a good example of a range of male body types is a rather odd argument to make since they are only that way because of racial stereotypes.

Which is a point that Sarkeesian misses. While she argues that male body diversity exists to allow male characters to show off their personalities, the problem is that it’s usually the other way around: the developers pick a personality and then pick a body type to emphasize that purported personality. This is usually based around a stereotypical idea of what body types go with those personalities. More importantly, this is often used to mock those body types and personalities, or to take a stereotypical idea of them in culture to do the emotional work for the writers … which is exactly the sort of thing she criticizes the character Jo Slade for doing.

Additionally, this reveals something that you can do for women that you can’t do as easily for men. The reason that they change the body types for men is that it’s harder — though not impossible — to represent differing personalities in any other way for men. For women, a lot of the visual difference in personality comes down strictly to clothing and hairstyle, but for men clothing doesn’t vary that much, and so it’s a lot harder to indicate personality that way. So it’s not unreasonable for them to stick with the same rough body type that most people find attractive in some way for women and use varying styles to reflect varying personality types. Note that in games that do rely heavily on costume and style to differentiate the personalities of male characters — the Persona games, for example — the body types don’t vary that much.

At any rate, in order to treat female characters the same as male characters here means treating female characters as stereotypically as male characters are treated. It’s interesting to note, then, that one of Sarkeesian’s examples here is of Kreia, who is presented in personality and appearance as a stereotypical witch. Note that we can contrast that with another Bioware character that fills the same “mentor” role — Wynne from Dragon Age — and note that that stereotype is not used. Flemeth and Morrigan are the witches … and don’t conform to the stereotype in appearance (Morrigan rather, ahem, visibly so). Again, Sarkeesian’s analysis seems to be based on shallow personal preference rather than real, detailed analysis, since she doesn’t mention Wynne at all and talks about how great Kreia is in multiple videos.

So, Sarkeesian is certainly not going to want women of differing body types presented as simple stereotypes nor as objects of ridicule. In order to have them be seen as, for example, desirable, she’s not going to want to give characters the option to skip them, either as playable characters or as romance options. If she goes as far as she usually wants to, this would mean creating, say, heavy women as the main character or as the main — if not only — romance option. This clashes with player choice. How many players really want to play as a heavier character? Do even heavier players, in fact, really want to play as a heavier character? Or would they rather play as someone who is at least more conventionally attractive than they are? If games are power fantasy — as so many of those criticizing games suggest — then even the audience Sarkeesian would want to appeal to here might not actually want to be forced into that role. Ironically, it might be the traditional straight male audience that might find that option surprisingly refreshing.

And the romance option becomes more problematic, because it might run into the issue that the player is forced into romancing an option that neither they nor their character would find appealing. We’ve already run into this in RPGs, which is one reason for the increasing diversity of romance options. But even doing that has its issues. If you don’t match the body type to its “stereotype” (personality), the character might be off-putting. If you do, then that’s stereotyping and not what Sarkeesian ought to want. It also runs the risk of a problem experienced with Samantha Traynor from Mass Effect 3, where male players found her the most appealing option — and, in some cases, the only appealing option — but couldn’t romance her because she was same-sex only (in my case, my Shepard was a lesbian female and so didn’t have that problem). The best way to do what Sarkeesian wants is to give the least physically attractive characters the most appealing personalities, but this could leave players with no reasonable romance option … an issue that happened to me a couple of times in “The Old Republic”. While this sometimes can’t be avoided, it hurts the game and the game playing experience if it happens. Since romance options are almost always determined by a combination of physical attractiveness and personality — like real-life romance options — this approach would make that more likely to occur.

At the end of the day, in general more player choice is good and less is bad. Sarkeesian’s attempt to insert Social Justice goals into games, however, works against player choice, or else all her desired gains vanish as most people holding the views she wants to change simply ignore all of the content … unless she forces it on them. But then it might ruin the experience even for those people she wants to help with her changes. I’m not sure a clearer example of Social Justice vs Games can be found.

First Thoughts On: Charmed

January 4, 2017

So, right at the beginning of December, right before going on vacation, I stopped into the local HMV to look for deals on TV series on DVD, and picked up a few things. I bought “Wings”, the original “Beauty and the Beast”, and the original “Ghostbusters” soundtrack. I also managed to find two things that I had been looking for for ages: the “Top Gun” soundtrack … and, as should be evident from the title, the complete series of “Charmed”.

Now, Charmed was another one of those series that I had watched parts of out of most of the seasons of the entire series, but never really sat down and completely watched. I remembered it fondly, but couldn’t find a good deal on it anywhere, or at least one where the comments didn’t say “The glue might run and ruin it so you might have to send it back”. So seeing it there for a reasonable price — about $1 an hour of entertainment if I only watched it once — made me decide that, yeah, I should get it. And I started watching it.

So what do I think of it?

As the TV Tropes page says — and I’ll spare you the link to it — the first couple of seasons were much more melodramatic. I myself thought of them as more “soap operaish”, focusing on personal drama and relationship drama and less on the details of the warlocks and demons. To be honest, it had all of the melodrama and angst of the later Buffy seasons, only more so, which could grate at times. But once they started getting into the more serious supernatural arcs, it definitely improved, even if the themes mostly stayed the same … and migrated from character to character. For example, at the end of season four the Charmed Ones get a choice of changing their destiny and deciding whether to keep their powers or live a normal life. Piper from the start railed against not having a normal life, Phoebe always thought that the powers were the most wonderful things in the world, and the new witch Paige was just entering into it. It made sense that Paige would take over the “enthusiastic” part, since she had mostly experienced the excitement and power and less of the downsides of constantly being attacked. But the person who was most adamant that they should give up their powers was … Phoebe? And Piper was the swing vote, at least initially? Sure, you can argue that as the eldest sister (now) she wasn’t comfortable arguing that aggressively … except that she didn’t have any problem doing it, oh, for the rest of the season or even the rest of the episode. It would have worked best — even given the roles of the sisters — for Piper to push for returning to a normal life, Paige for keeping them, and Phoebe being torn: remembering how much she loved the powers but also noting how much heartache not being normal has caused everyone. And it would even have made it better that, if I recall correctly, she was the one who suggested looking further into the “witch hunter”, and then her line at the end that helping someone made her feel good, while keeping Piper’s line of making it unanimous while outvoted still make as much if not more sense. About the only thing it doesn’t do is allow for Piper to be just going along with what the others wanted the whole time … but as the swing vote she wasn’t doing that anyway. At best, she was going along with whatever Phoebe wanted, which if built upon would be creating a rift for later between her and Paige, which is not really what they’d want at this point after taking the entire season healing that rift.

That being said, I think it does mostly avoid “Aesop Amnesia”, mostly because the structure of the story, at least through Season 4, is such that they don’t really learn an aesop, but instead accept things. That, for example, Piper would accept that her life is not going to be normal but continue to have the desire for a normal life isn’t really “Aesop Amnesia”, but more reflects her frustrations boiling over at not being able to have what she really wants while understanding that there’s a higher purpose that she has to put first.

All of the main actresses are attractive and the show, to be honest, really wants to highlight that, which I don’t particularly mind. I’d classify it, so far, as a smarter and deeper supernatural “Charlie’s Angels”: Attractive people doing attractive things with a plot that lets them do the attractive things and keep your attention when the attractive things aren’t as prominent, except that the plots and characters are better and build on arcs. In a sense, it fits between a show like “Charlie’s Angels” and a show like “Buffy/Angel”: the plot details and characters are more detailed and can stand on their own more than the former, but it still has fanservice as more of the main appeal than the latter as the plots aren’t that strong. But it’s still entertaining.

Final Thoughts: Knights of the Fallen Empire

December 28, 2016

This story arc was of such quality that not only am I going to cancel my subscription to “The Old Republic”, but I’m hesitant to try the next Mass Effect or Dragon Age game in case it turns out the same way.


First Thoughts: Knights of the Fallen Empire

December 21, 2016

By the time this post gets posted, I hope to have finished the entire sixteen chapters of Knights of the Fallen Empire. I started it early in December, creating a level 60 character based on Isabelle from Babylon 5. A little background on the character:

My original Sith Sorcerer was based on Galen from Crusade and other Babylon 5 works. The general idea was similar to the technomages in Babylon 5: they were cyborgs who were created to serve the Sith and so had implants that allowed them to work or at least appear to work the Force. Galen was the motivating force behind all of my other characters, recruiting them to work to unify the Republic and the Empire, knowing that the violence was pointless and that they’d need to work together to face a larger threat.

At the beginning of Knights of the Fallen Empire, he was busy on a mission so Isabelle took his ship and crew and went after the Emperor, leading to her capture and imprisonment for 5 years before being released. In-game, Galen waits despondently, going about his other duties, waiting for her to send him a message in the Force, as she promised, but hasn’t. So, a lot like the novel series on the technomages.

So, with a background that’s so much more fun than the actual background, what do I think of Knights of the Fallen Empire so far?


The Old Republic’s combat, I think we can all agree, is not exactly entertaining. We put up with it to get from place to place and to get the levels and credits and equipment we need to get on with the rest of the game, and we keep moving around to new quests and planets enough that it doesn’t really matter. But we’re at level 60 here. We don’t really need more XP or more credits. I already have about 300,000 credits starting from 0, about half-way through the chapters, and I could get more from one of my other characters. At times, it seems like there’s combat just for the sake of combat here, and that’s the last thing we need in a story like this.

The story is serviceable, but not particularly interesting. It hits a lot of the standard tropes shown in the class stories, and the characters are somewhat interesting, but it really can’t hold a candle to the more focused RPGs like Mass Effect and Dragon Age in that regard. It also moves too quickly to be that interesting as well. We seem to have combat sequences to pad out the time, but that doesn’t leave too much space between story elements for us to be shocked at betrayals.

Ultimately, it’s okay, but it would almost have been better to not do anything if they weren’t prepared to do a full-on KotOR-style RPG. This hybrid of MMORPG and pure RPG-elements doesn’t really work.

First Thoughts on Friday the 13th, The Series

October 21, 2016

So, I was actually looking at commentary on one of the early Friday the 13th video games, and ended up being reminded of an old TV show Friday the 13th, the series. I then managed to pick it up on Amazon, and have started watching it when baseball isn’t on (essentially, 1 – 2 episodes an evening). So far, I’m through the first two disks of the first season, and am actually enjoying it.

The pilot episode was, well, a bit rough. The plot didn’t have the oomph and detail of later episodes, and the acting was stilted in places. About the only thing it had going for it was that it featured an early role for Sarah Polley, who might well have turned in the best performance out of the entire cast. But, overall, the pilot wasn’t a particularly good episode.

However, the episodes I’ve seen after that have gotten a lot better. The acting has improved, but the best part is how all of the primary characters — Jack, Ryan and Micki — have fit in together and formed some good chemistry. In the first episode, the various roles weren’t really clear, but now we pretty much know where everyone fits: Jack is the, well, Jack-of-All-Trades and usually the person who explains the history and significance of the objects, Ryan does the heavy physical lifting and is the joker, and Micki is, at least in the early episodes, the person who doesn’t really want to be doing this, and who is probably the most freaked out by all of it — Jack has the experience and Ryan seems to find it cool — but who overcomes that to live up to her responsibility. She also shows herself to be quite clever at times, even if she falls into the damsel in distress role a few times.

And all of them relate to each other pretty much the way they ought to. They clearly care about each other, tease each other, and annoy each other at pretty much the right times. Their performances seem to almost always reflect that, even when they’re dealing with other things.

There are times when the dialogue and performances are still stilted and awkward, but it’s a great improvement over the pilot. Sometimes the plots move far too quickly and you end up at the end of the episode missing the development of, well, everything. But overall, it’s an entertaining show, and I’m enjoying watching it.

Thoughts on “Civil War”

October 14, 2016

So, I recently managed to watch “Captain America: Civil War”. My thoughts on it will contain spoilers, so I’ll put it below the fold: