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

Thoughts on Dynasty (Seasons 5 – 7)

September 17, 2018

At the time of writing this, I’m actually part-way into season 9, the last season. And with these sorts of soap operas, it’s often difficult to break apart what storylines or character moments happened when, because they tend to go in a mostly unbroken line, where it’s hard to say where one storyline ends and another begins. But I wanted to talk about this middle part on its own since a lot happened there, and leave the last two seasons — which the DVD itself splits off into its own package — to talk about alongside my overall thoughts on the show, so I figured I’d get down to it.

At this point, I think that Dynasty’s stories aren’t as good as Dallas’, but they have cast members with more presence than Dallas did. I don’t want to take anything away from people like Larry Hagman or Patrick Duffy or any of the other excellent actors on the show, but it’s hard for them to compete with actors who have the presence of John Forsythe and Joan Collins. On top of that, actors like Michael Nader and Gordon Thomson manage to bring in the overly melodramatic tone that for some strange reason works in a soap opera and combine it with an overarching charisma that makes them ideally suited for soap opera shows. Leann Hunley comes in as Dana and also manages to put on a strong, soap operaish performance. They have much less to work with, but they certainly know how to pull it off.

Adam, however, seems to be a bit of a problem for the show. He continually makes Heel-Face-Heel turns, but the show has a tendency to have him do those turns right about the time it establishes something about him that should make us sympathetic to him. He never really gets to be the full-on villain like Alexis, but he does things bad enough that we should be completely unsympathetic to him, usually right after he does something to make us sympathetic to him. As stated above, Thomson plays the role well and can use his charisma to make us sympathetic to Adam, but the character ends up squandering any good will that we might have had for him almost in the next scene. One of the worst parts was when he was being blackmailed for potentially not being a Carrington and he treated Dana terribly over that … when she was the only person who knew him and liked him both as who he grew up as and as who he was claimed to be. We can sympathize with his fears — as they’re consistent with his character, at least — but treating Dana as if she was only interested in him as Adam Carrington made little sense, and was never addressed.

Unfortunately, the show also has a problem with the other Carrington son, Stephen. Throughout those seasons, he again continually wavers between getting into relationships with women and leaving them because supposedly he’s really gay despite having lots and lots of sex with multiple women. The plot gets really, really old, and it never really seems to go anywhere or get resolved. It was an interesting twist to have him try a relationship without sex with Sammy Jo, but it never really went anywhere either, nor did that resolve anything. Yes, soap operas have to keep storylines going to have something for their characters to do, but this one wasn’t interesting in the first place and got even more so as time went on, so they really should have tried to find something else to do with the character (this does happen in Season 8).

This season also contained the infamous Moldavian Massacre cliff-hanger ending, infamous because maybe two characters died out of that, one of which didn’t and both of them being secondary characters. I agree that it didn’t live up to the hype of the cliff-hanger, but I’m a little more sanguine about it because the deaths did impact the storylines. One of them was the death of Stephen’s lover, which for better or for worse kicked Stephen back down the path of hooking up with women again. The other was the King of Moldavia, which led to a rescue mission when it was discovered he was still alive and a long-running fraud plot against Alexis that resulted in fireworks and contributed to the break-up of Amanda and Michael. So while the immediate effects weren’t as dramatic as we were led to believe they’d be, they did still have a major impact on the storylines.

One of the characters that I was most interested in watching was Amanda, because I’ve always liked Catherine Oxenberg (which is self-referential, because the first thing I saw her in was Dynasty). Amanda is an interesting character. Her flirtation with Dex got to be really, really annoying — especially how quickly she’d dump whomever she was currently in love with to pursue him even though he was married to her mother, and then she’d be upset when Alexis got mad at her over that — but it did reflect something that, at least, Oxenberg managed to convey in the character, as she came across as someone who was beautiful — and she knew it — but a little sheltered, and so much of her flirtations in general came across as her getting to a place where she could use her beauty to get what she wanted and having fun testing that out, which usually ended up getting her in trouble. However, when she took up with the old chauffeur that everyone said was trouble, it got a bit irritating, as she was made out to be far too stupid or naive than she should have been at that point. She was also played at that point by Karen Cellini, which was an interesting move in and of itself. It made the early compliments about how stunningly beautiful she was rather odd, since while Cellini was attractive she didn’t have the stunning beauty of Oxenberg. However, she also managed to pull of the playful snarking that Amanda engaged in in that season better than Oxenberg would have. At the end of that season, however, Amanda went back to England which was somewhat welcome because the plot of her fighting with Blake over the man she was in love with wore very thin and there didn’t seem to be anything else to replace it with.

Claudia also exits the show in these seasons, after taking up with Stephen again, and then with Adam, and then feeling that she was shafted out of her inheritance from Matthew, and then lighting the hotel on fire (accidentally) and dying in the blaze. I liked the character, so I think she deserved better than that, but it really cemented her as the Butt Monkey of the show that nothing good ever happened to but where almost all of that was never her fault (except for the ending where she turned more manipulative without really being good at that).

Matthew Bleisdel returned in these seasons as well, and was about as interesting as he was in his early seasons, which is to say that he wasn’t at all interesting. The most that came out of that was that Stephen had to kill him and was broken up about that for a while.

There’s also a storyline where Blake and Krystle’s daughter, Krystina, ends up having a heart condition and needs a transplant. This not only shows off John Forsythe’s acting chops, but the actress playing Krystina ends up doing a fine job of being amazingly cute while doing it.

The show is okay to watch, and the storylines move fast enough — sometimes too fast, to tell you the truth — so that it isn’t boring watching it. But watching it and the performances is better than trying to follow the plot most of the time. Still, so far definitely worth watching.

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The AAA Conundrum …

September 5, 2018

So, while I may have mentioned this before — I’m too lazy to go and look it up — one of the issues that I have with the Hearts of Iron games is that I’m afraid of the combat in it, especially in HOI2 where people say that successful combat relies more on positioning than it does on overall strength. The fear is that I would arrange the political and diplomatic situations more successfully — Germany recruits from disaffected Soviet areas, Britain and France engage Germany early, the Soviet Union is less unprepared for the sudden end of the alliance with Germany, and so on — and then fritter away the interesting alt-history that that might have produced by being incapable of winning the military conflict due to a lack of skill. I’m interested in the alt-history and political aspects of the game, but am not really interested in a detailed military situation. Something like what’s in Axis and Allies would work perfectly well for me. And yet, I suspect that there are a number of fans of the game who want the military simulation aspects heightened, to be more of a challenge and more detailed and involved than it already is. If they downgraded that for me, then it would annoy those fans, but if they enhance it to cater to those fans then it will only put more and more fans like me off the game.

This is, of course, a known issue, and generally leads to niche market games that explore one or two of those aspects in detail while more general audience games merely focus on doing it well enough, relying on the niche market to satisfy the niche itch while letting them enjoy the more complete but more shallow games for what they themselves bring, and also being able to appeal more to the mainstream. However, there is an issue with AAA quality games. The graphics and production demands of AAA games means that they are, by necessity, very expensive to make. In order to make a profit, they have to grab as much of the market as they possibly can. This means that they need to be able to appeal broadly to pretty much the entire market and don’t want to have sales siphoned away by niche games. This leads them to try to be everything to everyone, and to provide all the aspects that the genre generally provides at niche-level depth, so that those players who want the complete experience can get it from that game and those who want one of the aspects can get it from that game as well. They don’t really succeed, of course, and often they seem to try to be shallow, but there is pressure for them to provide deeper systems for any aspect their audience is interested in because that’s how they’ll increase or maintain their sales and freeze out competition from AAA or niche competitors.

You can’t make a niche AAA quality game. There’s no way to get an audience big enough to have that turn a profit. But what do you do when you have multiple niche gamers all playing your game and demanding an increase in the niche they like and less prominence for the niches they don’t? If you keep them all equally prominent, then players might get turned off by those other aspects and stop buying your games. So you can give players a way to turn those aspects off or at the very least to ignore them … but then you will likely end up spending a lot of money on aspects of your game that most of your audience are completely ignoring. In fact, at the extremes you will end up with every aspect of your game, individually, only being truly explored by a small minority of your players, but being unable to reduce the effort you put into each aspect because it will cost you sales that you need to make a profit.

And the sad thing is that, in general, I think that most niche gamers aren’t all that concerned about things like graphical fidelity or nebulous “production values”. Even if the graphics weren’t all that great, I’d still probably enjoy a game that produced great alt-history moments through politicking and diplomacy. For the most part, niche gamers are more concerned with how those things support the aspects that they enjoy as opposed to having to have them be the best possible. But those who want the best possible graphics and production values are, themselves, a niche. And thus, are a market that AAA games need to appeal to. Which forces them to spend more money than they need to on all aspects of a game, which forces then to include all of them, which forces cost increases, and so on and so forth. It’s a trap that it is difficult to escape.

Thoughts on Deadpool 2

September 3, 2018

So, I recently picked up and watched Deadpool 2. Now, I actually love the first Deadpool movie. It’s one of the very few movies that I can watch without being tempted to read while it’s on … or, at least, I can do that through most of the first half. So I was really looking forward to this one, to get a new movie in a series of movies that I could really, really like.

Why do sequels keep disappointing me?

(more…)

Thoughts on He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (2002)

August 27, 2018

So, I just finished watching the 2002 reboot of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Like with “The New Adventures of He-Man”, it’s interesting to look at this in the context of the new She-Ra series to see if any lessons from it can be applied there. However, it’s also a far superior show than “The New Adventures of He-Man”, so it’s nice to look at what it managed to do right.

First, let’s start with the comparison to She-Ra. One of the things that the show is trying to do — and is driving the change in character models — is start She-Ra and her companions as being younger in order to appeal to a younger audience. Except, when He-Man and She-Ra were on TV I was that younger audience, and had absolutely no issues relating to the older characters in the shows. It doesn’t seem like we really need to have characters our age to be able to relate to them or to the show, and often shows that try that — Wesley Crusher from TNG, the Wonder Twins from Superfriends, WilyKit and WilyKat from ThunderCats, etc — end up with really annoying characters that we’re supposed to relate to but instead take up time that could go to the cooler characters. Add in that they are supposedly keeping the revolution angle and this starts to get a bit incredible.

The 2002 He-Man series, however, did actually do that, by reducing Adam and Teela in age to teenagers. And this actually worked pretty well, because it let them do things that wouldn’t have made sense in the original series with the original ages. Adam, for example, can now be portrayed not as the wastrel he had to be in the original series, but merely as someone who is immature and irresponsible because of that. As he is becoming a man, it also allows them to introduce a deeper conflict between Adam wanting to be the hero and having to become He-Man and have He-Man take the credit. And this only gets deepened by the fact that, as a teenager, Teela is often far more competitive with Adam and far more harsh on him than it would make sense for the original series Teela to be. As they are teens, she teases him, competes with him, and is harshly exasperated with his perceived uselessness and cowardice … to the point of being annoying. And, in fact, teenage Teela is, in general, pretty annoying. She’s harshly commanding at times and often oversteps her bounds and experience. And yet, that’s okay, because as a teenager she’s supposed to be annoying. Moreover, she gets called out for making those mistakes more than the original Teela could have. Man-At-Arms takes a more direct leadership role given the age issue, but Teela still gets to be in charge sometimes, mostly because she’s the daughter of the leader and has his training, which puts her above most of the troops, but she rarely is that strongly in charge if Man-At-Arms is available, which makes it more credible. De-aging her and Adam also sets them apart from the others, allowing them to talk about things in a way that the others wouldn’t necessarily understand and to play and compete against each other in a way that makes more sense. However, since most of the Masters are adults the conflict with Skeletor’s warriors seems more credible in general.

Thus, the message for the new She-Ra show is this: if you are going to de-age them, use it for something. And don’t put them into situations where they are in over their heads just because they are that young.

In general, though, the reboot respects the original while attempting to be its own show. We can see this from the beginning, where the title sequence starts with the classic introduction to the original series, only to be interrupted by Skeletor attacking, which both, to me, shows that they respect the original material and yet are going for a much more action-focused reinterpretation, and thus pretty much reflects what the show was really going to be like. They integrate storylines and items into the show quite often, and also name drop a lot of other things as well, such as the Diamond of Disappearance. They bring some classic villains into the show, upgraded. They restore Evil-Lyn as a mostly self-interested minion of Skeletor and return her snark and disdain for the other Evil Warriors. Skeletor gets his old voice back. But they do all this wrapped around far more detailed fight and action scenes, which the original series couldn’t have done.

It’s not all good, though. Orko is reduced to a complete incompetent who is insanely overconfident and full of himself, whereas he was far more of a helpful sort in the original series, which allowed him to be a sounding board and companion for Adam and He-Man when necessary. Here, only Man-At-Arms can fill that role. Cringer and Battlecat are not voiced, which loses some of the humour they could bring to the show. And the Sorceress is changed from a generally wise and individually powerful being to someone who is more harsh and commanding but does less on her own. Both of the new series did that to the Sorceress for some reason.

The new show also focuses more on multi-part episodes and arcs, which would be good except the focus on action doesn’t really leave room for any kind of development. Thus, the characters generally don’t evolve and the plots end up being simply moving from one place and/or one plot to another. Ultimately, it’s entertaining, but a bit shallow.

At the end of the day, I liked it and will probably watch it again.

Next up, the original She-Ra, Princess of Power series.

Thoughts on “The New Adventures of He-Man”

August 20, 2018

So along with the original series of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and the 2002 version, I also have a few disks that contain the “best” 20 episodes of “The New Adventures of He-Man”, which was supposedly a continuation of the original series that had completely new character designs, jettisoned pretty much all of the Masters and the villains, and even set it in a far off, completely different future. It pretty much only keeps He-Man and Skeletor, although they are completely different as well. While it isn’t really fair to review a series based on 20 episodes — they made 65 — I think it worth looking at it because they’re doing a reboot of She-Ra for a modern audience so it might be worth looking to see where this show went wrong.

Because, boy, did it really go wrong.

The first big mistake is setting it in the far future, because that doesn’t in fact actually add anything to the show, nor does it really add new plotlines or things to explore. The problem is that while the original series seemed to be set in a medieval fantasy setting, it was a medieval fantasy setting that had high technology and so was very technologically advanced. In short, the show itself was already futuristic, so you aren’t bringing someone who was unused to their technology into a world with more technology. All of their technology could have existed in He-Man’s original time, and so He-Man can easily understand and use all of it. This still could have been interesting if the future planet had been radically different from Eternia, like, say, being more of a Coruscant-type planet-city instead of the more open world of Eternia. Except Primus, the future planet that may or may not be Eternia, is pretty much the same sort of planet as Eternia was. So we don’t even get to see He-Man adjusting to a new environment. So … what was the point of flinging him into the far future? You could have had the same story set in the present, even if you wanted to have He-Man separated from the other Masters. All you’d need to do is have He-Man go to a far off planet that’s hard to get to to defend them from mutant attacks — and have Skeletor follow — and you’re done.

And setting it in the far future causes issues, especially since they insist on keeping Adam in the story and not changing his character model. Now, there’s no real reason that He-Man can’t stay He-Man all of the time; as far as I remember they never claimed that in the first series. For the most part, the dual identities exist because their other identities are too important to simply disappear or be killed off. Adam is the heir to the throne, which would cause a lot of issues if he suddenly disappeared and became He-Man all of the time. Adora technically could simply be killed off or disappear, but aside from her being an heir to the Eternian throne the conversion of one of Hordak’s most trusted lieutenants to a resistance fighter arguably can do more to convert people to the cause than all of She-Ra’s victories. Both of them, then, are important figures that it would be inconvenient to have simply vanish or “die”, thus mandating the dual role. Adam, as a completely newcomer to the future, doesn’t have that. So why can’t he simply be He-Man all of the time? You can argue that that would allow the villains to find him and so they’d be constantly attacking him to try to kill him … but they’re doing that as much as they can anyway, and Adam was often targeted in the original series just for being Adam, so that’s not as good a reason.

Especially since it raises an issue for the show: since Skeletor, presumably, is not an idiot and has seen Adam on multiple occasions in the original series and in this show, why doesn’t he get suspicious that Adam and He-Man are the same person? If the show was set on a distant planet, then having Adam and He-Man arrive is suspicious but can be explained directly as both of them being sent to help that planet out. But Adam is not presented as Adam, but as a new person who happens to look exactly like Adam — I think he might even keep the name — who appears at the exact same time as He-Man does. Sure, that can happen, but it’s not very plausible. And, in fact, at one point Skeletor builds a machine to track He-Man’s brain waves, notes that they are coming from a group that includes Adam, and never stops to think that maybe it is Adam. That’s a bit too much contrivance to take.

That being said, Skeletor is also downgraded in this series. In the original, he was menacing and manipulative, but also could be humorous and goofy at times. Here, he’s pretty much just goofy. He’s not even the leader of the enemy forces, but wrangles his way into being an adviser to them, which isn’t implausible and might even be something that it would be interesting to explore, except that he’s clearly significantly smarter than them and so is in general the only credible threat. He ends the series in the subordinate role, despite the fact that he would have clearly trying to take over and, in fact, is skilled and smart enough to do so, so it’s hard to see why he’d stay in that role. And his voice is far more standard and loses the unique menace that it had in the original series (and which they brought back for the 2002 series).

Also, there is no real Evil-Lyn analogue in this series. There is a female character who sides with Skeletor, but it is presented as her doing that because she loves him and not because it is in her interest to, which is how Evil-Lyn is presented. The “love” angle is far less interesting and makes her far less of an equal to Skeletor than the common interests angle does. Also, they had a couple of interesting female characters on the hero side, but as far as I can see minimized one and turned the other from a more academically-oriented character to an action character by the end, which wastes the potential of that character, especially since she was seemingly a love interest for He-Man as well. Pairing him with someone who was smarter and didn’t fight was something to explore, as would setting up a Betty and Veronica type situation where he has to choose between someone more practical and someone more intellectual, but neither were done as far as far as I can see and so it was just a waste.

Also, the new Masters and new villains aren’t all that interesting. The original series based their personalities around specific quirks, which gave them some character, which is mostly lacking in the new characters, so they come across as standard heroic sidekicks and villain minions.

Now, some of these things might have gotten some development or explanation in other episodes, and so it might not be fair to judge the series based only on those 20 episodes. Then again, these were the ones voted the best by the fans of the series, and none of them were very good. Since She-Ra seems to be radically altering the premise of the original She-Ra series, it would be good for them to at least note that if you’re going to change things, at least make certain that you make use of them and don’t let them walk you into new issues, like “The New Adventures of He-Man” had in spades.

Thoughts on “The Storm of War”

August 17, 2018

So, I finished reading “The Storm of War” by Andrew Roberts. In a way, his book is directly comparable to Gibbon’s “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”, since it seems to recount WWII in a similar way, and with at least a potentially similar dual role: give an explanation for why the various “empires” fell while describing in some detail the events that occurred during it. But, at the end of it all, “The Storm of War” is a much more accessible work.

The biggest disappointment with the work is that while it starts out by claiming that what it is going to do is argue for a reason why Hitler failed, and at times reminds us that it is trying to do that at various points throughout the work, including in the conclusion, Roberts doesn’t, in fact, spend all that much time doing that. Most of the book is a fairly straight examination of the events that occurred in WWII, with little link to his actual thesis, and so most of the time you can forget what his actual thesis is. On top of that, his actual thesis is a relatively uncontroversial one: that the main impediment to Hitler and the Nazis actually achieving their goals was their own ideology, which caused them to not properly exploit the tensions in the Soviet Union by treating its subjugated peoples better and caused a number of other errors. This isn’t all that controversial in and of itself, so to make that interesting Roberts would have had to have given new evidence or new arguments or show how it caused their failures in a new and unique way. But since he gives it so little attention, he never does. This really makes his thesis seem like a “Well, we knew that already!” sort of conclusion. Thus, it’s probably better, if that was all he had, that he didn’t focus on it all that much.

And that, I think, is partly why it works better than Gibbon’s work. Roberts focuses on telling the story of WWII and telling it in an interesting and accessible way. He doesn’t bog things down with too many details — and, in fact, at times he seems to only lightly skim over some events — but that works for the book. If you want to find out the details of various events there are lots of other books that can provide that, but here you get a deeper look than most simple textbooks will give but not so deep a look that it gets bogged down. Without having a specific focus — like, say, “War at Sea” or “The Decisive Duel” have — it can’t really be expected to do much more. Thus, it’s a pretty entertaining and easy read.

Next up is “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” for something like the fourth time. This time, though, what will be interesting is that I’ll be re-reading it right after reading another book on WWII. Will that much WWII end up boring me? Will I notice discrepancies between the two, or will they all generally agree? I’ll have to see when I get through that book.

Thoughts on He-Man and the Masters of the Universe

August 13, 2018

Yep, the original cartoon. A while ago I purchased a big He-Man collection, featuring the entire original series, the “best” of “The New Adventures of He-Man”, and the entire 2002 series. I had, of course, watched at least the original series and the 2002 series the first time, but that was a few years ago so I decided to watch all of them again and see how they held up.

It’s actually amazing how well the original series has held up.

The thing about the series is that it has what I recall someone commenting somewhere at Shamus Young’s site saying was generally true about the 80s: while it was odd and quirky, it was just so damn sincere about it that it was endearing. While sometimes the plots and even the overarching premise were very, very odd, the series for the most part took that and itself seriously, and yet not too seriously. They mixed in a lot of humour, even from Skeletor himself, which is what made him such a good villain, with the ability to be utterly menacing and yet utterly goofy at times as well. One of my favourite gags was when Evil-Lyn and Webstor stole some critical artifact without Skeletor’s knowledge, but he had seen them bring the thing into Snake Mountain right before He-Man shows up demanding it. He turns back from the window and asks them if that was what He-Men was asking for, they confirmed that it was, and he replies to He-Man “Sorry, haven’t seen it!”.

And the plots did work a lot of the time, even if they weren’t particularly complex. At the end, they dragged because there was only so much you could do with that premise, and some of them — especially in the later seasons — were just plain stupid, but for a half-hour children’s cartoon show they worked really well to provide light entertainment. Which is really all you could expect or want from a show like that.

The characters also worked. Stratos seemed to be the butt-monkey most of the time, but for the most part the characters — including the Attack Trac — were generally quirky but fit their roles well, and most of them even got some time in the limelight. This also included Skeletor’s minions, although by the end they were pretty much just a joke, except for Evil-Lyn, whom I really did like, especially as she allowed for a power struggle behind the scenes between her and Skeletor while making it clear why she would still work with him and he’d keep her around: they both needed each others’ abilities too often to ditch each other. Evil-Lyn also had a bit of a rivalry with Teela, but they both respected each other from the times that they had to work together to get things through. Teela herself is strong without being (too) annoying, which is more than a lot of modern strong heroines can achieve.

People often laugh about the terrible animation of the show, but I didn’t see that as a problem. Yes, the animation was primitive, but when the direction was good things were set up that the action didn’t need complex animation. Things were repeated from show to show and even in-show, but in ways that made sense and so didn’t detract from the action. It was rare that I noticed the animation failures, and most of those were, again, in the later seasons. In the early seasons, things flowed so much that the animation seemed “natural”, even though, again, it was primitive.

Ultimately, the original series was, for the most part, just plain fun. Not over-complicated, and not generally overly preachy, even in the ending “So now you know” sequences. It had some decent characterization and character development — the big one being Teela being the Sorceress’ daughter — but all of that tended to be in service to the show and the fun. Again, while at times it was idiotic in general that only lasted for a couple of episodes before it got back to being fun again. This is definitely a series that I’d watch again.

Update on Elsinore …

August 10, 2018

So I was reading through my archives at one point and was reminded of Elsinore, and since my impression at the time was that the game was almost finished or at least readily playable and since that was over two years ago I figured I’d take a look and see what was happening with it. And the latest update is that almost two and a half years later … the game is finally maybe getting ready for release. They have a Steam page, for example. And their latest Kickstarter update says that they’re working on issues discovered in Beta! So, if you were anxiously awaiting this game, you might actually get it.

Unfortunately, from the original Kickstarter page, the original delivery date was supposed to be April 2016 … or around the time that I posted about it and when Carolyn Petit talked about it. Given that it’s almost two and a half years later, they were no where near a proper release at that point.

And the things they talk about in the update, despite having two more years to work on it, aren’t all that promising either:

While we’re still making steady progress, a release date is still pending as we take time to clean up a big pile of bugs and content issues.

Most of the things we’re working on are back-end housekeeping-y tasks, and don’t make exciting bullet points (hence the relative silence) but here are recent updates we have, many of which involve responding to feedback you gave us during the beta:

Better Tutorials
There are a lot of features to help players manage the simulation of Elsinore, and previously we were just kind of… throwing them at you. Well, no more!

We are have some helpful pointers when each of those feature are introduced to tell you what each of these features do, and some tips and tricks to navigate the game effectively. We kept them brief, too – so they shouldn’t slow down game-play at all!

Furry Friends!
The last of our in-game backer rewards is now actually in-game and functional! All of your cats and great dane-ified dogs will now show up at various locations in the castle!

Two pets show up every loop, so the fact that they happened to be in the same place in this screenshot is actually very, very unlikely.

Why do only two pets show up each time?

Um. Well.

Our lore answer is animals can perceive the time loop and therefore are not bound by it! The real answer is that having 20 cats and dogs running around was very distracting.

A Real Options Menu
By far the most exciting pre-launch task is creating a real options menu. This one is underway. Right now, you only have one option – how fast do you want your text to scroll? Val and Connor learned from Socrates Jones that people care very, very deeply about this.

Obviously, a lot more important things will be put here before release. Graphics and sound options, mainly – if any of you have any strong opinions on what should be here, let us know!

And that’s it for now!
I mean, it’s not really it.There is a bunch of other stuff currently in progress that we’re hoping to get in, but don’t want to trumpet too loudly – we are at the point where we will drop new features if they push us back too far.

We’re hoping to do one more big backer build update before release – we talked about doing them more often, but each update comes with a risk of breaking your save files (Actually, making that less likely is ANOTHER of the big things we’ve been working on. But that only works going forward…)

So, they are dealing with a huge pile of bugs and content issues, which is delaying the release. And that was at the beginning of July, and they’ve said nothing else there since. Also, they needed to add real tutorials – the claim is “better” but the hint is that the tutorials were non-existent — to explain their mechanics. They finally added a backer reward of including dogs and cats in the game — I, uh, really have to wonder how many backers found that to be a clinching reward — but noted that they couldn’t actually put them in the way they originally intended to. Okay, that one might be something left to the end and discovered during beta, fine. They also have to actually add a number of configuration options to the game … which they call updates to the “menu” while admitting that the options weren’t in the game. And they’re even asking what should be in there! That’s … not something you should be doing when you’re claiming to be releasing soon.

So, almost two and a half years later, they are finally prepping for release with a host of bugs and content issues and major standard functionality completely missing. Yeah, that’s … not good. It would also be interesting to see if most of the bugs and content issues are the result of the complex interactions that I thought they’d have a hard time getting a handle on or if it’s more the result of bad or rushed coding. I suspect that it’s a little bit of both.

It will be interesting to see how much longer it takes for the game to be released — to be fair to them, that could be as early as tomorrow — and what state it’s in when it is released. The hope is that the beta testing is indeed finding the issues with it that I noted in my post and so it might not be a disaster at the end of the day. The longer cycle after beta would seem promising if you’re a fan of the game, but I’m not sure that we can trust their assessment of the game given how they talked about it two years ago and that it took them two years longer than they expected to get the game out, and did a beta already in 2016.

At this point, if it comes out on GOG, I almost have to buy it and see how it turned out, out of morbid curiosity and, well, an attempt to be fair to the game. I don’t buy anything from Steam, though, so if it stays only there then I won’t be able to.

First Thoughts on Persona 2

August 1, 2018

After playing through the first couple of dungeons, I think I like Innocent Sin less than I liked the original Persona. This … is not a good sign [grin].

The game carries over a number of gameplay elements and thus annoyances from the original Persona. You still have to get new Personas through negotiation, although this time it seems to be by gathering cards that you can use to fuse new Personas rather than by having to recruit them directly. Still, this maintains the choice between leveling up your characters and gathering Persona and cards. And some random elements happen when the Shadows interrupt the conversation and ask questions, but only enough to be a bit annoying and not enough to actually make it a challenge. At least the conversations seem to be easier this time and so I’ve managed to gather up a fair number of cards, but for the most part it’s still boring and still clashes with experience gain.

It also provides a temptation to just do the conversation to avoid the fight since the combat is nowhere near as interesting as it is in the later Persona games. This, of course, risks leaving you underleveled, and since your Personas only increase their skills if you use their abilities — especially in combat — that would leave your Personas underleveled as well. Yep, that mechanism returns and is just as annoying as it was in Persona.

What this game adds, it seems to me, is a higher random encounter rate with more confusing dungeons. The random encounter rate seems to me to be on par with Suikoden V’s, and it also interrupts me while I’m trying to find rooms or ways through dungeons and thus confusing me at about the same rate as that game. This isn’t helped by the fact that you actually can’t find the way out of one dungeon, even though the game tells you that you’ve taken a wrong turn and so need to find another way out. You have to get lost three times before a cutscene cuts in and lets you find the way out. The game also has a nasty habit of sending you on long runs around the areas to find who you’re looking for. From the beginning, the game asks you to seek out the guidance counselor and you spend the entire time running around the school, moving from room to room and area to area to be told that you just missed her, until you finally find her … back where you started. This carries on throughout many of the dungeons, and it only gets more annoying when you add random encounters into the mix. The best one was the one where you had to smash all the clocks … although the fact that some students would break some for you and so you didn’t have to go into those rooms made it more annoying because it wasn’t just a straightforward “Go into every room and break the clock” mission.

The game, however, does do a far better job of integrating the story and the dungeons, with cutscenes and conversations advancing the plot and the lore at regular points inside most dungeons. I also kinda like the idea of finding rumours that can then add special enemies to a dungeon, but find it annoying that once you find that out you have to leave the dungeon, schlep over the Detective Agency, pay for it to be spread, and then return and hope to hit the ghost in a random encounter. It would be better to have that happen in the dungeon, not outside of it.

The rumours mechanism is interesting, but clashes badly with my casual gaming style, since you might want to hold off on spreading a rumour so as to be able to spread really good ones — like that the shop sells high quality weapons or armor — but that you don’t know that going in. It’s also not clear how important this stuff is, and since it costs money and since I’m always strapped for cash the first time through a game I wonder if I should be spreading all the rumours I come across. This game is also not that casual friendly because there doesn’t really seem to be a way to find out from the game where you need to go if you forget — although the people in the streets have conversations that might suggest it — and playing two days a week I quite often forget where I was supposed to go next.

The game’s story does a pretty good job of mixing goofy humour with the serious plot, although it can be a bit too goofy at times. I like most of the characters, though, although the fighting between Lisa and Boss gets annoying (which is lampshaded because it annoys everyone else, too).

So far, I’m not particularly enjoying the game. I suspect that part of the problem is because of the frustration I felt while playing the original Persona, and this game really does seem like more of the same. Despite my problems with Persona 3 the the last time I played it replaying it with the Female MC is next on my list and seems so much more interesting than this game sounds. Still, my plan is still to muddle on through this one, but so far I’m not really enjoying the ride.

Thoughts on “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”

July 25, 2018

So, I managed to finish a version of “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” by Edward Gibbon that was abridged by Hugh Trevor-Roper. I found that I really struggled to read the book, so much so that I ended up treating reading it like I was reading something for a course: I read about a chapter a day, and read other things in my more general reading time. This is not how I generally read history books. And all of this is despite the fact that I am in general interested in the Roman Empire. So what was it that so bored me about that book?

I think the main issue is that the books doesn’t really seem to have a focus. Gibbon uses lots of florid and evocative language and a lot of descriptive asides, which is not a bad thing, as long as we have a context for it. But Gibbon doesn’t seem to be just writing a descriptive narrative, telling us what happened in roughly chronological order, where we can see the asides as things that happen to come up in that discussion. He doesn’t even always follow a chronological order. However, he also doesn’t seem to have an overall thesis that he’s trying to convince us of, such as giving an explanation for why the Roman Empire fell that he is trying to prove, where we can see the asides as the details of things that we need to know to understand in order to see how the events fit into his thesis. So the descriptive asides are too long and detailed to be simply ignored as asides, but don’t seem to serve either the narrative of the events themselves or the overall thesis of the work. Because of that, I think I kept wondering why they were there and so felt that they were out of place and distracting from the book itself. If I was interested in what the asides were describing, it went better, but still the book really did seem to drag at times, which is why I enjoyed it more when I limited how much I was reading it.

My opinion is that the book would work well as a textbook, but not as a book that is just read. The descriptions and language mostly work, but what it lacks is the context to keep the descriptions interesting. As a textbook, the teacher/professor and the structure of the course would provide the context and allow the reader to skip over things that don’t add to the context they’re exploring. Trying to do this yourself for the entire work is far too difficult, especially since the events described might not fit what you’re interested in and so you’d be constantly struggling to find some meaning in what you’re reading, which is, well, pretty much what happened to me, actually.

I don’t regret reading the book, but I am very happy that I’ve finished it and am almost certainly never going to read it again.