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

Thoughts on “Privateers”

January 10, 2019

Here I return to Ben Bova’s solo outings with “Privateers”. Again, this book reflects how Bova builds worlds well but his human drama really struggles. This wouldn’t be a bad thing — especially since Bova is trying to be more “hard” science fiction than most writers — but unfortunately the driving force in all of his novels is always the human drama, which is the weakest part of them.

The world in this one is interesting: the Soviet Union won the Cold War by building a missile defense screen first. Thus, they are the only nation that can use nuclear weapons (relatively) safely. They use that to browbeat the U.S. into giving up their space program and their missile defense research and thus take control over space … although not officially. There are agreements making space neutral and having to be used for the benefits of all mankind, but the Soviets can pretty much do what they want because no one wants to push them to the brink of war. Although Bova on a number of occasions points out that their dominance isn’t as secure as it might sound and if groups of nations got together to oppose them, things would be bad for the Soviets.

The shift in power leaves America impoverished and dirty, and defeatism runs through them. The Soviets isolate them and blunt their power. Out of this rises our hero, Dan, who is at least a more interesting hero than we had in “The Trikon Deception”. He’s an American who worked on their space program who now has to work for a South American country to send things into space because America won’t anymore. There’s a link between him and the current U.S. President, where he was in love with and likely had an affair with her but when her husband — who was the one elected President — died of a heart attack he leaves the country and she is quite bitter over all of that. Unfortunately, all this does is introduce some issues; not much comes of it nor does it get resolved by the end of the book.

The main love interest, then, is the young daughter of the President of the country he is in. She fits into the spoiled rich girl stereotype that we also saw in “Colony”, but unlike the lead in that book Lucita isn’t running a rebellious organization nor does she show any sort of competence or plot-relevant actions in the entire book. She’s really just there to be a game chip between Dan and his Soviet antagonist Malik. But other than being attractive, it’s hard to see the appeal she has for them, so it’s hard to really get involved in the love triangle.

Things would be better if Bova wasn’t continuing his trend of having the classic moustache-twirling villains in his work. The Soviets themselves are utterly ruthless, at one point willing to crash an asteroid into the Earth — and, particularly, the United States — if they can blame it on Dan. Malik for the most part is equally ruthless, willing to kill innocent people — or, rather, have them killed — just to get back at Dan or as a warning to him. The machinations, then, never seem particularly clever, and how obvious they are is what leads to the rather quick and unsatisfying resolution to the novel.

Ultimately, the big power struggle is over the Soviets controlling the price of resources and so Dan needing a new source, which he plans to get by moving an asteroid into Earth orbit. The Soviets oppose this and capture the ship Dan was using to do it (after it has already been sent on its way) and Dan breaks them out, and then eventually turns to actual privateering, which results in the privateering ship being attacked and having its crew killed, and the space station he was on — controlled by the South American country he works for — captured and him arrested, leading to a somewhat contrived way to capture Malik and end the threat. To be fair, though, the elements for Dan escaping were set out in advance, but the actual ending and victory over Malik is what moves too quickly and seems contrived.

The book starts with the attack and capture and then traces the events that led up to it, like “The Trikon Deception”. It works better this time because the final events do follow from what was stated there and it is dramatic enough that we remember it.

Ultimately, the book was fine. The main characters work well enough to keep me entertained and the secondary characters are also interesting enough. The world is interesting and now can come off as an interesting alternate history — and so stays relevant even today — and the science parts mostly work. It’s just too bad that the human drama and particularly the villains are both the least interesting parts of it and are the main focus of most of the work.

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Final Thoughts on the Persona Dancing Games …

January 9, 2019

So at one point I decided to play through all the tracks and unlock and purchase as much of the costumes I could in the Free Play portion of Persona 4 Dancing All Night. It took me a fair bit of time and I didn’t do as well in that game as I did in the other Persona games, but I got most of what I wanted.

The big thing I want to talk about here is the difference between earning costumes and the like and purchasing them. The advantage of purchasing them is that you don’t end up getting things that you don’t want for characters that you have little intention of ever using. The disadvantage is that you get no sense of accomplishment for actually unlocking those things, and the only way to get those things is to do things to get more money that you can spend on those things, which is less than thrilling. Call it a wash.

Overall, the big problem with these games is the lack of replayability. In Dancing All Night you might want to replay the main story again, but there’s little reason to replay the tracks in Free Play unless you really like the dancing and/or want to get better at those tracks. In Dancing in Starlight and Dancing in Moonlight, the only story progression comes from the S-links, but once you’ve unlocked them they stay unlocked so all you’d be doing is watching them again without actually doing any of the dancing, which would be rather dull. So there’s not much replayability here unless you’re a huge fan of dancing games, and I’m not even sure that it’s that great a dancing game compared to the other ones available.

Ultimately, they were worth getting and playing, but I can’t really see when I might play them again.

Thoughts on Police Squad! and Naked Gun

December 27, 2018

Whenever you hear about the “Naked Gun” movies, they always advertise prominently that the movies are “From the Files of Police Squad!”, making the link back to that TV series. So when I was browsing in a store and saw a combination pack that contained the three “Naked Gun” movies and the entire “Police Squad!” series for a reasonable price, I had to get it and not only watch those movies again that I had enjoyed, but also to see just was all the fuss over “Police Squad!” was about.

My overall impression of it was to note that the similar but earlier show “Get Smart” was so much better than “Police Squad!” was, and to wonder why people made such a fuss over that series.

Part of this is because the series is so incredibly short. It’s six episodes long. As a point of contrast, each season of Red Dwarf is a disappointing six episodes, but they got 8 seasons in the original run, which produced a pretty decent set of episodes to generate memorable moments in. On top of that, despite being only six episodes long the show seemed repetitive. The attempts at running gags — like the “Cigarette?” “Yes, it is” line — falter because it just seems like a straight repeat of a joke instead of a running gag. This is because they don’t do anything new with, but they don’t repeat it enough for us to really know that it’s coming and be prepared for it. And this is despite the Cigarette? joke being used maybe twice in six episodes. I saw it coming the second time, but there was nothing new and no anticipation for it when it came up. Compare this to the many well-done running gags in “Get Smart” that became culturally recognized — the shoe phone, the Cone of Silence, “Sorry about that, Chief!”, “Just one question, what’s an X?” and so on — and we can see the difference. Most of the time, things were altered, at least slightly, to make it seem fresh. By the time we could see it coming, we were already into it as a running gag, and so had the anticipation of it as the running gag that it was. In “Police Squad!”, it seemed to be nothing more than a joke, and there was no where to go with it or to alter it, so it just seemed like a repeated joke than a running gag, but reused jokes, especially in a series only six episodes long, don’t go over well.

Ironically, the show runners did manage to get a running gag into the “Airplane!” series, with the lead telling people a story that bores them to suicide. This one had variations on it, and came up often enough that we could see it as a running gag, and even had the potential to be subverted later, with someone finding his stories interesting instead. None of that really happened in the series, beyond them freezing at the end credits but it being only the actors freezing and not a freeze frame itself, which was probably the best part of the series.

This probably explains why the movies are actually better than the series, but also why the later movies don’t work as well. This was also true of “Airplane!”, actually, with the second movie being worse than the first one. The movies give more time to develop jokes and running gags and to load the movie up with constant gags while still being able to stitch in enough of a plot to move us to the next joke. But the problem is that the jokes are indeed repetitive, and so later movies, especially if watched immediately after the previous movies, don’t seem fresh and the jokes seem less like series-wide running gags than like telling the same jokes over and over again, except for the few memorable ones like “Don’t call me Shirley” from the original “Airplane!” movie. This holds for “Naked Gun” as well; the first movie is significantly more entertaining than the last two.

I’m glad to have watched the original run of “Police Squad!”, but if I was ever tempted to watch it again I’d be more likely to just watch “Get Smart!” instead. Or “Sledge Hammer!”, for that matter. The “Naked Gun” movies, especially the first one, are movies that I’m likely to watch again at some point. Overall, it was worth what I paid for it.

Thoughts on Persona 4 Dancing All Night

December 26, 2018

So, I got through the story mode of Persona 4 Dancing All Night. I haven’t opened up all the tracks, but I thought I talk about my replay of the story mode and do some comparisons between the games now, since I’ve kinda put the game on hold for a bit while I do other things. I’d like to at least unlock all the easily unlockable tracks and purchase some more things, but can’t say when that will happen.

Anyway, I like the story mode in Dancing All Night, but found, at least this time, that there were a few too many dancing sections and so the story seemed to drag on a bit. The reason I blame it on the dancing sections is because the sections seemed to have no real relevance to the plot, but seemed to be there just to provide a dancing section for the dancing game. For example, a number of practices for Kanami, and pretty much the whole subplot with Nanako becoming a dancer. Even at the end, it seemed that there were too many dance sections tacked on to pad out the dancing part rather than to make sure that we advanced the plot properly, and since there were story sections between all of those sections, I can see why some people thought the story sections long and boring. However, since Free Mode was open from the beginning they could have easily skipped the entire thing, so I don’t feel all that bad for them. The S-links of the other two games are less interesting, but also more accessible.

Still, the story works fairly well. Kanami is a very interesting character, far more so than her competition Rise. There is such a huge discontinuity between her idol-Persona and her real personality, and her real personality is very endearing. She’s not all that confident and a bit of a klutz, but she notices things that are going on around her — er, eventually — and reacts in a believable way. For example, when Nanako leaves saying “Bearwell” — which she must have gotten from Teddie — Kanami idly responds with a cheerful “Bearwell” and then pauses to question that. Her personality pretty much makes the story mode for me, while the plot is okay and gives Dojima the chance to show what he can actually do as a detective.

Gameplay-wise, I found Dancing All Night to be more difficult than the other two. Certainly, not having the support ability to maintain combos if I only got a Good rating helped, but like between Dancing in Moonlight and Dancing in Starlight I found that in Dancing All Night you had to do more things at the same time to make it work, although in general I found that the tracks aligned with the rhythm of the song more often. But most of the gameplay is the same between all the versions.

I should comment on the fact that to get new costumes and the like here you have to buy them instead of unlocking them. So far, I have to call it a wash. Buying them means that you can focus only on the characters you like, but at least on Easy I don’t get enough money to really buy a lot, even after I got through the story mode. There’s enough if you only care about a couple of characters or a couple of outfits for those characters, but if you want everything it already gets grindy after the story mode, especially since the story mode is not interesting enough to play through more than once.

The games overall were worth getting and I’ll probably poke around with them another time, but none of them have huge replay value other than redoing the dances with different costumes or just because you enjoyed the dancing itself.

Thoughts on “The Trikon Deception”

December 20, 2018

“The Trikon Deception” is a collaboration between Ben Bova and Bill Pogue, and is the second of those novels that I’m going to look at. It’s … a problematic work.

Essentially, the plot revolves around attempts to solve pollution and specifically global warming through research at a space station is space. The novel starts with a disaster and then builds up the background to explain how we got there. One of the issues with this, though, is that it starts with the commander of the station making a dramatic statement about how it was all his fault but the book doesn’t really establish how it was or how he could have done anything differently. The beginning starts with another issue and has him locking everything down to try to foil it — espionage led to someone stealing a disk that had a virus that would shut down the entire station if someone tried to load it on any computer on the full network — and if his deciding to do that then or later had actually caused the major problems that would be a good bit of foreshadowing. But the big issues were caused by other people, and in fact deliberately by other people, and he pretty much only did the reasonable thing in all cases. So if you remember that bit of foreshadowing, it will fall flat, and if you don’t remember it, then it was pointless.

One of the interesting aspects is that Bova’s novels tend to mix in a lot of environmental issues and details into them. This time it’s global warming and he and Pogue craft a very pessimistic assessment of it, claiming that it will be critical by the 90s (killing off plankton, for example, causing massive whale deaths). Obviously, this didn’t happen, but my impression was that Bova had been a part of or had contacts within NASA and so could base his predictions on actual data. It made me wonder how much of it was based on real data and predictions that turned out to be wrong and how much of it was just his own speculation.

The book, ultimately, isn’t very interesting. The main character is the commander of the station, and despite attempts to give him a personality and a history — he has an angry ex-wife back on Earth and a son that he can’t spend time with — he just isn’t very interesting. In order to help with this, they introduce a romantic interest in the station’s doctor — explicitly stated to be potentially somewhat dumpy on Earth but in space the lower gravity makes her more attractive, more so than the beauty queen who is also on the station — and even a love triangle with the media representative for a Mars project who clashes with the commander, but this isn’t interesting either, because there’s little reason for her to actually like the Mars project guy, but she sleeps with him first to provide DRAMA!, and then confesses her love over the comms while drugged up due to the machinations of the main villain (he puts them into the air supply for the entire station), so it’s boring, nonsensical, and too easily resolved to really be interesting.

And that last plot reveals probably the biggest failing of the book: the villains are cartoonish, chortling over their grand machinations that aren’t in any way clever and only work because everyone else is either too cartoonish villain or too stupid to stop them, or else due to blind luck … at which point the villains pat themselves on the back for their cleverness at managing to get extremely lucky. These machinations end up causing deaths and framing people and potentially destroying their lives and yet the villains don’t care at all, only caring about their own views. Heck, one character wants to destroy the station for some radical environmentalist idea and is nothing more than a minor speed bump and annoyance, and is even redeemed at the end. There is a huge lack of clever villains and sympathetic characters in the book.

Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t hate the book. But I didn’t particularly enjoy it, either. It had some good moments and some mildly interesting characters, but overall it was bland and uninteresting, which blunts the triumphant ending. I’m not likely to read it again.

Next, I go back to a solo Bova book, with “Privateers”.

First Thoughts on the Persona Dancing Games

December 19, 2018

So, many years ago, I bought and played the “Persona 4 Dancing All Night” game. I liked it. It seems that other people liked it too, or at least enough that they released dancing games for the other two modern Persona games, “Persona 3 Dancing in Moonlight” and “Persona 5 Dancing in Starlight”. I decided that I’d buy them for the PS4, and decided to get the collection that included both games as well as the digital download of Dancing All Night. So far, I’ve played pretty much all of the S-links that I really want to do in the new games, and so only have the grinding cleaning up to do, so I’m about to replay Dancing All Night and see what I think of it.

The big difference between the new games and Dancing All Night is that the new games don’t have an actual or set story. Instead, they use the ludicrous but good enough premise that after the events in Dancing All Night Margaret, Elizabeth and Lavenza got arguing over which guest would be the most inspiring with dancing, and so Elizabeth and Lavenza gathered all of the characters from the other two games together in a dream to dance and prove which team is better. Spoiler Alert: Both teams “win”. Anyway, that premise is most explored in Lavenza and Elizabeth’s specific Social Links, and if you manage to see all of their links — earned by seeing the links of the other characters — you unlock them as dancers. The others have their own links that unlock various things like costumes, accessories, and Support and Challenge modifiers.

The Support and Challenge modifiers are a great idea, and fit into the philosophy of these games about, for the most part, letting you play the game how you want without having to feel like you’re losing out. You can unlock all of Elizabeth or Lavenza’s scenes without having to see everyone’s scenes, and get most of the costumes and even most of the other characters without having to pull off anything really difficult. The Support and Challenge modifiers allow you to customize your experience, with Support modifiers making it easier — like having Good results not break combos — and Challenge modifiers making it easier. But you can combine these modifiers in almost any way you want — the game won’t let you take modifiers that conflict with each other, like making it so that you can miss on scratches but then have scratches automatically succeed — to really customize the experience. The modifiers change your score — Support decreases it while Challenge increases it — but unlike Dancing All Night where you needed points to purchase new things points seem to be solely for show here. As stated, you unlock those things in the new games by advancing links and doing things in-game.

I’m not sure if I like the change to accomplishments rather than points. The problem with accomplishments is that it tends to force you to do things you don’t really want to do. The biggest examples of this, oddly, are some of the easiest ones to get: use a certain number of costumes or accessories. All you have to do is do dances and keep changing accessories and costumes, so it’s a relatively simple grind … but it means that you have to select outfits and even characters that you wouldn’t do otherwise just to advance the link. This forces you into doing things that you don’t find as enjoyable just to finish the links. It seems to me that the points system, while still grindy, allowed you to grind more with dance experiences that you more enjoyed than what happened here.

I’ve finished all of the links that I cared about in both Dancing in Moonlight and Dancing in Starlight, but still have some to finish. In the first one, I have the two really grindy ones where you need to get a high Max Combo number and need to get a lot of Perfects — Akihiko’s and Aigis’ — left, as well as Ken’s where you need to clear tracks with Brilliant’s and Junpei’s where you need to use a lot of accessories. In Dancing in Starlight, I have the last two links cleared, and so only need to finish Ryuji’s (Combos) and Yusuke’s (Perfects). But since I don’t really care about them I’m going to move on to replaying Dancing All Night and might come back to them later.

For the most part, I found Dancing in Moonlight to be more difficult than Dancing in Starlight. The dances seem more complicated, even on “Easy”, especially Mitsuru’s. That being said, the dances and character models seem more appealing in Dancing in Moonlight, especially Mitsuru. I’m not sure which game I prefer. Both are fun, but right now I find Mitsuru and Elizabeth more interesting than the characters in Dancing in Starlight, which makes me lean towards that one.

And let me end on a hint: if you want to clear the links that require playing a lot of tracks, there aren’t enough tracks on “Easy” to do that, so the easiest way to do that is to unlock the highest difficulty and then start there and work your way through all the tracks without hitting a single button, letting them fail. The link only requires you to start it, not finish it successfully, and on the highest difficulty levels you’ll fail it in seconds. And one of the modifiers requires you to fail a dance in under ten seconds, so you’d clear that at the same time. It’s boring, but faster than actually trying to complete the tracks.

Thoughts on “Spider-Man: Homecoming”

December 12, 2018

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

And it was disappointing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another Update on Elsinore …

December 7, 2018

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

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

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

Thoughts on “Vampire Princess Miyu”

December 6, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, yeah, depressing.

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

DLC and Expansions …

December 5, 2018

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

Dear Diecast,

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

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

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

Thanks,
Mark

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

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

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

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

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

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