Archive for the ‘Philosophical Writer's Guide’ Category

Dragon Age: Origins: Issues with Secondary Antagonists …

October 3, 2018

So, over the past couple of weeks I’ve now played the end sequence of Dragon Age: Origins three times, finishing off all of my characters (except my very first character, a human mage, which I redid — even keeping the same name, although accidentally — as my last character). Since I always leave Orzammar for last, that also meant that I replayed at least parts of that storyline for at least two different characters. I’ve now played as a City Elf, Dwarf Noble, Dalish Elf, and Human Mage. With the last character, I also made Loghain a Grey Warden and ended up losing Alistair, which I didn’t do for any of my other characters. And that story really drove home something for me about the secondary antagonists in this game, which I think is best exemplified by Prince Bhelen … and the fact that I never chose him to be king with any of my characters and can’t really see how any of them could do that.

Bhelen is an antagonist in the Dwarven Noble introductory story. He’s the one who essentially sets the Dwarven Noble up and gets him assigned to execution. Harrowmount, in contrast, supports the Dwarven Noble and I believe is the one who gets the sentence commuted to being left in the Deep Roads, which at least gives a chance of survival (and Duncan rescues him, leading to the start of the main quest). So it’s pretty obvious that for almost all characters there is no reason for them to side with Bhelen, as what he did was unforgivable. However, those events are also hinted at in Orzammar, along with some other things that suggest that Bhelen is not to be trusted. If you actually investigate which of the two would make the better leader, you can’t help but discover that Bhelen is treacherous and Harrowmount is trustworthy if a bit staid and conservative. Given this, it’s really hard to not simply support Harrowmount because no matter whether he’s the best king for the Dwarfs, he can at least be counted on to keep his word, whereas it’s far too easy to believe that when you put out the call for Bhelen to keep his word and support the Grey Wardens against the Blight if he decides that that isn’t in his interest he’ll simply refuse to do so. Everything we know about his character suggests this. Harrowmount may not have the best policies, but he’s honest and definitely seems more concerned about the good of Orzammar than about his own self-interest. About the only character that might support Bhelen is the Dwarven Commoner, as their sister is Bhelen’s wife, which gives the Commoner a reason to believe Bhelen is trustworthy and that he might be more likely to support his family (which the Dwarven Noble storyline flat-out refutes).

Unfortunately, the game tries to present this as a choice between a good king whose ideas are outdated and so bad for the Dwarves vs someone more shady who at least has the proper ideas. The problem is that Bhelen is so shady that we can’t trust anything about him. His best idea is about breaking down the caste system, but we can be sure that he’ll maintain it if it benefits him. He is certainly willing to appeal to tradition when it suits him, like appealing to the fact that he’s the last remaining son of the previous king and so should, by rights, be made king. Even if the game presents it as working out better to make him king, pretty much no character can trust that he’ll do anything he says he’ll do, and so even if you think that his policies are the right ones you can’t really trust that he’ll actually do it. So, if you want to be sure of help against the Blight, you’ll choose Harrowmount. If you want to support the better person, you’ll support Harrowmount. If you want to do what’s best for the Dwarves, you’ll probably still support Harrowmount because he’s at least honest, will do what he says he’ll do, and cares about Orzammar first and foremost. The conflict is weakened because as an antagonist Bhelen is just way too evil to carry the shades of grey required to make that conflict really work.

The same thing applies to Loghain. It would be a great redemption tale to take that secondary antagonist — and the more visible one for most of the game — and turn him into a Grey Warden who gets sacrificed to end the Blight. Loghain certainly has enough heroism in his background to make that work. But Loghain isn’t just someone who made a tough choice that resulted in some deaths. He deliberately turned his back in the battle and left his king to die, when he could easily have simply refused to go along with the plan if he really thought it would be that disastrous. He trucks with assassins and slavers and shows little remorse or even rationalizations for doing so. At the Landsmeet, if you confront him with the slavery operations being run in the Alienage he insists that he did what was necessary but never actually explains what he needed that for, and what they were giving him. The game seems to want to present him as someone who was driven to extreme ends by the conflict, but never actually establishes that those ends were necessary. Thus, we are more likely to see him as evil rather than as merely misguided, and thus are uninterested in seeing him redeem himself. Alistair actually has a good point in saying that that sort of redemption is too good for someone who has done what Loghain has done, even if he pushes the point far too far to be rational.

And that’s the problem here. The game fell into the trap of making us want to oppose the antagonists — or, in Loghain’s case, to be able to defeat him through public opinion — by making their deeds so reprehensible that all characters — even the most pragmatic — want to oppose them and/or have no choice but to do so. But if you do that it’s very hard to make workable storylines using them that are more grey in nature. Loghain is a perfect character for a grey storyline where he always had Ferelden’s best interests at heart but through paranoia and fear did the wrong things, but his actions go far beyond that into evil or at least insane territory. And Bhelen’s policies would work to provide an interesting contrast in a character that we really believed cared about Orzammar, which we don’t do for Bhelen. They made the characters too strong of antagonists to make the “Well, it’s not as clearcut as it seems” twist work at all, especially since we need to buy that while we’re still supposed to be hating them. We simply can’t shift emotional gears that quickly when we’ve been buried in just how evil both of them actually are.

At the end of the day, the game tries to place redeeming qualities in characters that they’ve spent a lot of time removing all redeeming qualities from. It can’t pull that off, and so both storylines are greatly weakened by that, in at least most playthroughs.


Some General Thoughts and a Longer Dragon Age 2 Discussion

September 26, 2018

So, there was a bad storm out here recently, and I lost power for an extended period of time. Not being able to do most of my regular pass-times I instead did a little light reading: “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” (I took a short break to read the entire comic series “Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man” at one point). This, of course, worked out really well for my general reading, as I went from about 600 pages before the weekend to sitting at over 1000 today, when the book was going slowly not because it was a bad book but because it is a rather heavy book — in both content and actual size, since I’m reading a hardcover version of it — and so I can only get through a relatively small number of pages in an evening. But now I’m almost finished, and then that just leaves “Guns, Germs and Steel” out of my list of historical books and then that list will be finished! Right now, after that I’m planning to turn to fiction and read my collection of Ben Bova books, and instead of going on to philosophy after that I’m thinking about going through some serious literature for a while. But that’s in the future, and the X-Wing books will have to go in there somewhere.

Of course, being without power didn’t do wonders for my watching DVDs. However, I had just finished watching Dynasty — I’ll put up my final thoughts on that Monday — and have started watching Wonder Woman. Yes, I’ve comitted to finishing it this time. I’m working my way through She-Ra, and can’t wait to finish that one, for reasons that I’ll expound on at length when I talk about the series as a whole. So that’s still going along.

If you’ve been following my list of video games, you’ll note that I’ve put the Persona games on hold and started playing Dragon Age: Origins again. So far, I’ve finished my Dwarf Noble playthrough and am now working on finishing my Dalish Elf (she’s an archer, which is a bit of a different playstyle for me. I think I might need to start bringing along two warriors instead of having only one — Alistair — and then bringing along Leiliana). But you also might have noticed that after that I mentioned Dragon Age 2 and talk about it being an “Analysis run”. What’s all that about? Well, at work I was listening to a lot of Chuck Sonnenberg’s old video game reviews while working, and that included his Dragon Age 2 run. The first time I had watched it, I had disagreed with some of his conclusions in Act 2 and Act 3, but at the the time didn’t really go into it because some of them were things that I kinda griped about in my own thoughts on the game. I think, though, that it might be worth taking a look at them again and replaying the game with that in mind.

I’ll outline the two main issues here, but will revisit them and go into more detail on them later. The first is that in I think Act 2 — I’ll look it up more specifically when I directly address it — Chuck comments that Dragon Age 2 was the canary in the coal mine for Bioware. What he means by that is that DA2 was the first game where there was a huge discrepancy between professional review scores and player review scores, with professional reviews rating it so much higher than the players did. This was only exacerbated in Mass Effect 3. While I think he’s right about that, I don’t think that it was the canary in the coal mine for, at least, the issues that led to it. I think that honour belongs to Mass Effect 2, because as outlined in Shamus Young’s massive treatise on the Mass Effect games Mass Effect 2 was the game that moved away from giving you interesting choices and having those choices matter and instead towards railroading the character into doing what the writer wanted, which in that case was work for Cerberus. Chuck laments that choice was an illusion in DA2 but at least there that your actions couldn’t prevent the times to come was itself an important part of the story, as it seems to me that DA2 definitely aimed at being far more of a tragedy than the first game was, and in a tragedy no matter what you do you won’t be able to stop the tragedy from happening, either because it is inevitable no matter what you do or else because the reactions of the characters in the story will always be ones that lead to it due to their natures. They’re just not capable of doing the things they need to do to prevent it because those things are so anathema to their own personalities and who they think they are and how they think the world should work, and thus they create their own downfall due to who they are as people.

But Mass Effect 2 was not a tragedy. The player is not forced into working with Cerberus due to their own character, and in fact their own character likely would forestall them from actually doing it. Nothing in the characterization from Mass Effect suggests that the Council would ignore the Reaper problem after one attacks them on their doorstep, that the Alliance would simply abandon their colonies that are under Collector attack, that Cerberus is interested in them, is trustworthy enough to work with, or is even competent enough to make a difference here, or that Shepard would even consider working for them and not returning to the Council anyway. ME2 derails the plot and characters to make this fit, but covers it up with cool characters that you want to play with. DA2, instead, builds the railroading into the story but doesn’t have the interesting characters to make that more palatable.

Which leads to the second issue. In Act 3, I believe, Chuck comments that given all that’s happened in DA2 he can’t understand why Hawke doesn’t just leave, and that he/she only stays because they’re railroaded into it. Shamus, on the other hand, remarks that there is no reason for Shepard to work with Cerberus at all and only stays with them because the game won’t let them quit. The thing is, I think that unless you’re a character that is mercenary to the point where even Isabella would look at you funny, DA2 actually is careful to give almost all characters plenty of reasons to want to stay. First, Hawke for almost all of the game has family that they care about in Kirkwall, from your surviving sibling to your mother. Even in Chuck’s playthrough, Hawke isn’t likely to leave as long as Bethany is still in the Kirkwall Chantry. Second, even if your family is all dead — as mine was in my playthrough — you have friends that can’t leave as easily. Avelline, for example, is captain of the guard, while Varric still has some contacts there. I’d mention Anders’ seeming attachment to the place, but does anyone consider him a friend in that game [grin]? Third, you have a family estate and history there that you’ve recently reclaimed. That’s a reason to stick it out there instead of simply giving up that thing that you did so much work to get back, and that was very important to your mother. Fourth, it wasn’t that long ago that you had to uproot yourself and begin a new life elsewhere. Now that Kirkwall is finally feeling like a home again, Hawke might not be anxious to pack everything up and start over again. And, finally, Kirkwall’s not even all that bad compared to the rest of Thedas. What we have are unstable situations and one really disastrous event — the end of Act 2 with the Qunari — in the number of years you’ve been there. Ferelden, where you came from, had a civil war in the middle of a Blight. And a lot of the simmering issues in Kirkwall are simmering elsewhere as well. Hawke has some power and authority here and so is likely to think that at least they can make a difference here, which isn’t possible elsewhere. So almost all characters can find some reason to stay and try to make Kirkwall work rather than moving on.

Compare that with ME2. The main issue is disappearing colonists that no one seems to care about and that Shepard really has no reason to care that much about either. Cerberus is at best a small-time organization from the first game, and at worst is at best incompetent and at worst evil. Joining Cerberus actually causes Shepard to have less authority — because no one trusts Cerberus and so are reluctant to help someone working with them — than they would if they went back to the Council or the Alliance. Moreover, the Reapers are the bigger threat and one that Shepard should be more interested in pursuing. Yes, the two plots tie into each other, but no one seems to know that at that point in the game. ME2 doesn’t really give you any reason to think that working with Cerberus is going to in any way help you achieve any of your goals.

When we look deeper at DA2, we can see that the motivations were actually there, while when we look deeper at ME2 we can see that the shallow motivations it gives make no sense. DA2 might have failed to make the emotional connection, but from a plot and characterization standpoint we can see that it did the work to add the things to the story that we could then use to drive us forward. However, deciding that is the point of the “Analysis run”: to play the game with this in mind and see if it does or doesn’t work and what the game itself actually does here. It’ll take a while for me to get there — I do want to finish the DAO stories first, and then pick one to start from — but that’s the goal, at any rate.

Thoughts on “Infinity War”

September 24, 2018

So, I watched “Infinity War” recently, and after a spate of disappointing sequels, Infinity War is, in fact, actually a very good Avengers movie. I think it’s better than Age of Ultron but maybe not quite as good as Avengers.


Thoughts on “Happy Death Day”

September 14, 2018

“Happy Death Day” is a rarity among these cheap horror movies that I’ve been watching.

It’s actually good.


Thoughts on “Unhinged”

September 12, 2018

The cover for “Unhinged” says “They all wanted a piece of her … some took too much!”. As far as I can tell, that has absolutely no relation to the plot of the movie whatsoever unless one gets into creative interpretations that would make the most imaginative literary arts graduate blush. But this is appropriate, because the movie itself doesn’t really seem to know what it’s supposed to be, to its detriment.


Thoughts on “Pledges”

September 10, 2018

So, I think I’m going to make this week’s posts all posts on those dinky little $10 horror movies that I’ve been watching and kinda enjoying. There are a few reasons for this. First, I’ve actually managed to watch three of them over the past while and so have three to talk about. Second, I also have Dynasty and potentially She-Ra to talk about for the net few weeks and want to make sure I leave room for them. And third, things have been hectic lately and these posts tend to be shorter to write than the deeper philosophical posts and yet aren’t just me talking about video games, shows I normally watch, or myself like the other short posts are.

So, let me start by talking about “Pledges”, a movie that’s desperately trying to be a typical B-movie/exploitation movie. Its cover features a Scarlett Johansson look-alike dressed up as a cheerleader carrying a pom-pom and a knife. Eye-catching, certainly — it’s what drew my attention to the DVD — but it has nothing to do at all with the content of the movie at all. Heck, it may not even be a picture of any of the actresses in the movie; the woman featured does resemble the more promiscuous woman of the cast, with a different hair colour, but might not actually be here. Then, on the back cover, it talks about leaving them tied up in their underwear in the woods to start, and moving on to building camps later. This actually does happen. And to cover off the gore part, the movie starts with a fairly graphic — which, to be honest, is so over-the-top that it’s actually more funny than anything else — decapitation. So, yeah, this is looking like your standard movie trading on sex and core to get people to watch it.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t succeed at actually doing that.


Thoughts on “House of the Witch”

August 15, 2018

So, I’m continuing to watch the horror movies that I picked up for a relatively inexpensive price whenever I can fit it into my schedule. I do indeed think that I’m going to continue to try to do this, because watching them and analyzing them and picking out common features and issues from them is kinda fun. Unfortunately, it’s also usually more fun than actually watching the movies, as “House of the Witch” amply demonstrates,


How to Fix the new Star Wars Trilogy

August 8, 2018

So, as promised, here’s my response to this question:

Those who do not like the current direction of Starwars. What do you feel would be a good series of changes or proposed ideas going forward, that would not simply make the films better for you. What would be something that you would like. But not alienate those of us who like the current direction.

This is difficult to do because aside from the already mentioned fact that the those who like the current direction might not be all that large a fraction of the actual potential fan base, it’s also difficult to know what they COULD like about the current direction, because one of the main issues is that the current trilogy seems to have NO direction. TFA had lots of idiocy in it and didn’t set up very much, but what it DID set up TLJ happily jetisoned, but then it actually contradicted ITSELF for the entire movie, so it’s hard to see what “direction” there is to like.

From what I’ve read, the two big things that people like are the female protagonist, and the more grey morality when it comes to the Force, and perhaps the idea that some people are just evil and can’t be converted back to the light. I’m not sure that all of those CAN be preserved while staying in line with the OT, not because those themes aren’t valid to explore — Legends explored all of those — but because the way the trilogy did it means that it will be hard to do anything in one movie that makes everything make sense.

So, to start, the last movie cannot be “Resistence Triumphant!” like RotJ was. It’s going to have to be about rebuilding or reforming the actual Rebellion, and so essentially like the ending of the PT. The First Order is ascendant, but the Rebellion exists to give hope that they can be toppled. Then there should be another set of movies or trilogy to show the progress of the Rebellion. However, don’t let Abrams or Johnson anywhere near it. They’ve burned far too much good will with the OT fan base, at least in part due to their own comments, to be trusted with anything like that again.

Rey needs to lose badly in the last movie. She desperately needs to be humbled, to have doubts introduced, and to see that her approach is a really bad one. This is especially true since right now she constantly acts out of anger, which the other movies have established is a very risky way to use the Force and is not what a Jedi does. TLJ establishes her AS The Last Jedi based on what Yoda says — and given her reliance on anger and his views on that throughout all of the other movies this is a major contradiction — and so she had better not simply abandon one of its main tenets. Have her anger cause her to have a serious brush with the Dark Side, and realize that the Dark Side is not neutral (like she did in TLJ, seemingly seeking it out to try to find answers). Have her almost kill Finn in her anger by setting things up so that she thinks he might be a traitor when he isn’t, and have that cause her to realize that her anger is driving her to be evil, and so that she has to be humble and actually learn to control them, and that acting out of righteous anger is NOT a good approach, because when she finishes off one enemy her anger drives her to look for another one.

Kylo Ren needs to be made into an actual villain by resolving his conflicted feelings. What I’d do is have him take Snoke’s comments the wrong way, and decide that the problem is that he ISN’T really committed to “the mask”, and so seal himself entirely into armour — which allows us to get rid of the mumbling Adam Driver and give Kylo an actual intimidating voice — and so become completely evil. Have him fall into lava while wearing it, so that he’s only kept alive by his armour and his own black will, as Obi-Wan claimed was true of Vader. Thus, his arc is complete: he has become Vader, only this time he’s the master, not the apprentice, and he’s the one running the Empire.

Give Finn something to do, or else have Rey kill him. In retrospect, Rey actually killing Finn in a rage after her failure, blaming him for it when he didn’t have anything to do with it, would be more striking and more humbling for Rey.

Reduce Poe to Wedge status. That’s the role he’s best suited for anyway, and you can still feature him in supplementary material.

Introduce a new set of leaders, like we had in the OT, with one being political and one being military/fleet, at least.

And as I said, at the end the FO clearly wins, but the Rebellion is reborn with their now humbled Jedi symbol who knows she has a LOT to learn, and the next movies are all about how the Rebellion goes about toppling the First Order.

I suspect that many of the fans you talk about would hate this, especially Rey being humbled, but this is about the best I can do with it to try to add the ambiguity while being consistent with the other trilogies.

Thoughts on “The Last Jedi”

August 6, 2018

So, I did watch “The Last Jedi”, and I have a rather surprising conclusion about it to share: I think I like it better than “The Force Awakens”.

I still don’t think it’s a very good movie, though.

I’ll talk about why I think that below the fold:


Thoughts on Rogue One …

July 30, 2018

So, I broke down and bought both Rogue One and The Last Jedi. I have watched both. I’m going to comment on both, but I’m going to start with Rogue One.

The overall summary of Rogue One is this: It’s an okay science-fiction movie, which is pretty much the most we could expect from it given its subject matter. But it would have been a better movie if it had been a standalone film and not a Star Wars movie.

Since this movie is relatively recent and I’m probably going to talk about things that are spoilers, I’ll continue below the fold: