Onward... and awkward!
My holidays gave me a lot of time to read! Here are some of the things I readed!

Mira Grant, Feed, with bonus Feed by M.T. AndersonCollapse )

Jonathan Franzen, FreedomCollapse )

John Bradshaw, Cat SenseCollapse )

Hannah Kent, Burial RitesCollapse )



19 revelations ~ carry me from shore to shore
It's a new semester and I'm dealing with Some Stuff, so my brain needs some time to resolidify. Here are some pop culture notes that I managed to scrape together while we all wait for my next big idea!

  • NEW ARCHER AAAAH. ngl, I was a little underwhelmed by season four -- I mean, it was still pretty much the best show on television but not by as wide a margin as before -- and it looks like the writer was underwhelmed too, because he decided to scrap a bunch of stuff and reboot the setting. (Great article on it here, mild spoilers.)

    The premiere gave me a lot of FEELS which I am still processingCollapse )

  • Hey, you know how I promised to write a comparison of Archer and Venture Bros. like two years ago? I wrote 2,000 words of that back in the summer before kind of falling out of love with VB and petering out of its season 5. I sort of want to finish the essay because, well, I started it -- which, as it happens, is exactly how I feel about the season itself. I never would have dreamed that VB would make me feel this enhhhh; that show was fucking formative for me, it's one of the shows that I think of as really important in ways that I can talk about (and have talked about) at length, and indeed a lot of the TV I love wouldn't be possible without it (the number of frame-for-frame hommages to it in Archer is something I really want to catalogue sometime). The sad thing is I can't really identify anything wrong with VB S5, at least besides spoilerCollapse ) anyway. It's just as good as it ever was, I think? But I feel like I've outgrown it, or it's... outgrown... itself. Or something. Whatever it is, it makes me really sad. It's hard to overstate just how much that show means to me.

  • I got into the Elder Scrolls Online ("TESOL") beta, which was pretty exciting! Except not as exciting as I was hoping. The game is like a solid B, maaaaybe B+, and they're planning to charge premium prices for it, so odds are I'll be inviting them to blow me by the time they officially release. They had a slam-our-servers beta test last weekend, which, like all such tests, was, well, slammed, and buggy, and sort of tedious. The first day there weren't even any item drops and every monster had exactly 1 gold, so I was apparently playing it "for the story", which, well, you can imagine how profound and satisfying that was.

    Things improved swiftly over the course of the weekend and by the end of it things were running smoothly and I was having fun. But they want $15 a month for this B+ level of fun, which is twice as much as I pay for fucking Netflix, and that subscription model may have flown in 2005 when WoW was the only game in town, but I don't think it's gonna fly no more. N.B., I am a big fan of buying content and I not only acquire every single one of my games legally but toss a fin or two into the tip jar if it's an indie and I like it, so I am not saying this because I am the sort of whiny jerk who insists on having everything in the world for free. But though I like buying games, I resist buying the same content over and over again, especially when there are so many great games on Steam for like $5. Some of which I've been meaning to review (primarily The Binding of Isaac, Spelunky, and Pixel Dungeon on my phone, because apparently it's all-roguelikes-all-the-time around here).

    One of these days I have to come to terms with the fact that I just don't like MMO's that much. Truth be told, I'd rather play full-featured Skyrim by myself than play a simplified, graphically-hobbled Skyrim with twenty thousand people virtually running around and jabbering nearby. So maybe it's not TESOL, maybe it's me. But my NDA/prenup forbids me from talking about our relationship, and thus I can't go into any more detail about what worked and what didn't work about the game, so I think we're just going to have to forget this conversation ever happened. (True story, I was mentioning the NDA to someone in e-mail but typoed "NSA", which led to a particularly vivid visual in my mind. EDWARD SNOWDEN RELEASES THOUSANDS OF SCREENSHOTS, CONDEMNED AS TRAITOR.)

  • How much do I love that a Bad Cats pinball game is a thing that actually exists. You guys, it has a Fish Bone-us.

  • Finally, and most trivially, I can't stop laughing at this:

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15 revelations ~ carry me from shore to shore
Animal Crossing is one of those aimless, soothing, meaningless games with no combat and no win conditions and no puzzles and no... goals, even, really. All you do is pick fruit and catch butterflies and accumulate furniture and talk to creatures who seem to be living extremely complicated inner lives to which you have no access whatsoever.

You play the only human living in a town full of talking animals -- this is never explained or even really remarked upon -- and in the most recent game in the series, you are granted the mayorship of the town literally the minute you arrive. Your character can protest, but the animals will neither reconsider their decision to "elect" you, nor explain to you just what Kafkaesque administrative mixup created this political situation.

You can collect things (and I do, oh how I do) and rearrange the furniture in your house to your heart's content, or you can play minigames that involve catching fireflies or hitting a robot turtle with a plastic hammer (which is as close as the game gets to violence). It is the perfect level of neutral brain engagement for my commute, especially in the morning when I am not yet awake enough to focus on a book but too awake to be able to tolerate just sitting on the train.

The game is Japanese, but they got some brilliant writers for the English localization. Perhaps they're translating the original dialogue, but the English is so smoothly idiomatic (batshit crazy, to be sure, but idiomatic) that I generally assume they just started from scratch with freshly-written English nonsense for your animals to say. Does anyone know? woekitten?

In which I WAY OVERTHINK Animal Crossing, with screencapsCollapse )

As will come as a surprise to exactly nobody, I have lots of FEELINGS about the weird worldbuilding in this game -- everything from what it says about capitalism (do not even get me started about Nook and real estate) to gender (the game permits you to buy clothes for the "opposite" gender but pointedly scolds you for it) to the baseline economic model (here is a complete list of the food your character can consume: fruit, coffee). And then there's multiplayer, which is even more bizarre and awkward than you might have gathered from what I've said so far.

But this post is already overlong so perhaps I will write that another time. UNLESS NOT.

I say this a lot in real life too.


5 revelations ~ carry me from shore to shore
The backdrop of Skyrim's overarching plot is a civil war in the country after which the game is named. This is one of the weakest parts of the game's worldbuilding and the source of a lot of irritation among players, but I am currently milking it for TEH LULZ. In order to understand why I find it so hilarious, you will need to indulge me for a moment as I explain this narrative arc.

The premise is promising enough. So there are the Imperials, which is to say the soldier-bureaucrats whose Emperor sends his decrees out from a distant capital. The Imperials (basically Romans) consider Skyrim one of their administrative districts and do not try too hard to mask their contempt for Skyrim's inhabitants (called "Nords", basically Vikings). In the world of the Elder Scrolls, "Imperial" is actually a playable race as well as a faction, and many Imperials are also... uh, Imperials. But in the time in which Skyrim is set, the Imperial faction is allied with some cartoonishly evil elves called the Thalmor, and, for reasons that will become clear in a moment, almost anyone who is not a Nord also ends up associating with Imperials.

In the other corner, there are the rebel "Stormcloaks", named after their leader, Adolf Ulfric Stormcloak, who is really into Nord Pride, political autonomy, driving the Imperials out of their country, and huge fur coats. In the opening cutscene, Ulfric is about to be executed by an Imperial legion for treason after murdering Skyrim's king, whom he accused of being an Imperial puppet. You, the PC, happened to be nearby when Ulfric was captured, and you are about to be executed too (but you are not, which is why the game lasts 500 hours rather than three minutes, sorry for the spoiler).

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this setup, and in fact there are some interesting nuances to the story. For instance, the Nords are not actually indigenous to the region, and there are occasional uprisings by savages who call themselves "the Forsworn" who belong to a different race entirely and whose claim on the land is older than the Nords' own. The Forsworn are simultaneously batshit crazy and kind of sympathetic, and I sometimes find myself wishing that they're not automatically set aggro all the time.1

The problem is that if you, the player, want to experience the full game as the writers intended, you need to choose an allegiance: you can join the Imperials and be part of that questline, or you can join the Stormcloaks and be part of that questline. And it turns out that BOTH SIDES ARE COMPLETE DICKS.

The main sticking point between the Imperials and the Stormcloaks is the worship of a local god called Talos. For complicated political reasons, the Empire banned Talos' cult; depending on where you are in the country, you may or may not be able to visit a shrine without being attacked by Thalmor agents.2 Now most computer game dorks are of enough of a liberal stripe to think that people should not tell other people whom to worship, and most computer game dorks also like to perceive themselves as "rebels" in the Star Wars sense ("empires" are always evil, natch), so the Talos ban and the, you know, imperialism, makes the Stormcloak faction attractive.

BUT! The Stormcloaks, for their part, are racist shits. "Get the Imperials out of our country" transforms uncomfortably quickly into "get foreigners out of our country". I'm not just extrapolating, by the way: this is all explicit in the game dialogue, to the point where Nord NPC's, including the Dragonborn's own followers, will yell slogans like "SKYRIM FOR THE NORDS!" and "THE NEXT IMPERIAL I SEE DIES!" even if the Dragonborn is (as Valetura was in my primary game) an Imperial Imperial. Ulfric himself is the jarl (= chieftain) of a town called Windhelm, and he literally puts elves in a ghetto. Windhelmites walk around muttering stuff about how the damn dirty immigrants elves are taking all their jobs, and you may, if you like, challenge them to brawls and punch them until they stop being racist, because apparently that's how activism works.

WHAT DO. In my previous playthroughs I always sided with the Imperials, because naive paternalism somehow felt less bad to me than Nazism, even when it came with a side helping of religious oppression. Besides, the Imperials just generally seemed to be a more diverse and interesting lot, because anyone who is not a local Nord has zero reason to join the Stormcloaks (and I don't think I ever met a non-Nord Stormcloak). From time to time I would consider a Stormcloak playthrough, and then invariably I would arrive in Windhelm and see Ulfric sitting there on his throne delivering a very Volksgemeinschaft-ish speech and I would feel dirty ALL OVER.3

I wish I could say that the "EVERYBODY IS ASSHOLES"ness of the game is a Wire-like attempt at bringing complexity into the region's politics and showing the player that every ideology is flawed. But there is no real room for nuance in this part of the story: whether you're talking to the Imperial governor or the rebel warlord, no questions or counterarguments appear in the dialogue options, so you're left with either "I'm on your side because CRUSH THE REBELLION HURR DURR" or "I'm on your side because ELVES DON'T BELONG IN SKYRIM HURR DURR" and then your quest list lights up with instructions to kill everybody who disagrees.

Okay, enough preamble. As y'all know, in my current playthrough I decided to play a black dude, which in the Elder Scrolls universe is called a Redguard for some reason.

Here portrayed atop his mixed-race horse.

Like almost every game I've ever played / almost every SFF book I've ever read, Skyrim is suuuuuuuper cowardly w/r/t portraying racism against actual dark-skinned humans; within the game, racism is always focused on Dark Elves4 or anthropomorphic animals. So, for instance, Khajiit, i.e., cat-people, are not permitted within city limits and are thus forced to live on the road, selling cheap drugs out of covered wagons. As a riff on a specific kind of racism (against Travellers/Roma, e.g.), this is not completely terrible. I just find it telling that actual black dudes are assumed to be totally comfortable in the world while cat-people are OMG ABUSED. It makes you wonder whether the writers responsible for games like Skyrim take for granted that racism in our world is a solved problem, and that indeed people only get actually racist when it comes to REAL freaks like people with cat's heads.5 (It reminds a bit of the troubling logic that underlies white people's irritating tendency to say "I don't care if you're black, white, OR PURPLE!" -- LOL, skin colour is just a kuh-raaaaaaazy paintbrush, amirite.)

To be fair, racism is the only possible stance one can take against these guys.

Anyway, be all that as it may, I was suddenly struck by the idea that it would be TOTALLY HILARIOUS if my Redguard character were to sign up with the Stormcloaks. It actually kind of makes IC sense: Heef's introduction to Skyrim (the country) was being captured and almost-executed by Imperial soldiers, which I don't imagine really endearing him to the faction, and perhaps he would develop a bond with Ulfric in that first scene (you can't talk to Ulfric, since he is gagged, but arguably that just increases his appeal6).

When Heef, now level 46, approached Ulfric's steward to request to join the Stormcloaks, the steward was all, "errrr, you're not a Nord, why do you want to join us?" and one of your dialogue options is, "do I have to be a Nord to love this country?" (delivered, I imagine, in a super bitchy voice). The steward hilariously backpedals like "noooooooo, that's not what I meant, of course we're happy to have you, we'll welcome you with open arms after you kill this Ice Wraith to prove yourself." I think the Ice Wraith quest is given to everybody who plays this questline, but I personally choose to see it as the steward's attempt to get rid of the troublesome Redguard, like, "uhhhhhh, a non-Aryan dude wants to join us, let's send him on a silly dangerous quest in another province because I really don't feel like giving him a membership card to our PURE WHITE NATION."

That's as far as I've gotten. I haven't done the test yet because, being me, I've been distracted by dozens of other side quests and have actually kind of forgotten exactly where the Ice Wraith is. I will be sure to provide a full report of what happens next: I'm imagining Heef cresting the hill toward an Imperial camp, the soldiers glimpsing his black skin against the snow, and saying, "oh, it's a Redguard, surely he's not here to kill us, it's not like there's such a thing as a Redguard Stormcloak, lol, that doesn't even make sense", and then he slaughters them all for a 500 septim reward from the douchiest jarl in Tamriel. STAY TUNED.

footnotesCollapse )

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28 revelations ~ carry me from shore to shore
I sank nearly 100 hours into a second full playthrough of Skyrim before getting... not bored exactly (I'm actually having more fun than I did the first time through), but antsy and understimulated. Now that I know things like what jazbay grapes look like, how much to lead a walking target when I'm sniping, and how to distinguish a silver ore vein from an iron ore vein from the top of the next mountain over, I am always well-stocked in everything and can breeze through fights that laid me low before.

To make things more interesting for myself, I asked my friendslist for recommendations on "conducts" -- I borrowed the term from Nethack, where crazy people who thought that game somehow wasn't already hard enough would do things like try to finish the game as "atheists" (no praying), "vegetarians" (no eating corpses), "illiterates" (no reading scrolls or spellbooks), or even "Zen" (having the character spend the entire game wearing a blindfold -- yes, this is actually a thing).

In the comments on that post, fluffymark told me about a conduct that he tried: his character wore only items that he made himself. AMAZING. I opened up the game and started a new character right away. Meet Heef:

The original Heef had short hair, but I couldn't resist these gorgeous dreads.

Heef is a "Redguard" (I like how this game organizes its fantasy races into categories as follows: humans, elves, orcs, cat-people, lizard-people, and black people), and he's named after a beloved Apocalypse World character I played last year. The first Heef was a "savvyhead", which is to say a mad scientist, so it made sense that this new Heef would insist on making all his own weapons and armour, including the leather he's sporting in that there portrait.

fluffymark and I briefly got Talmudic with the details for this conduct. I drew up a set of rules, similar to Mark's but not identical, which I now list roughly in descending order of their importance to me:

  • No buying from shops. Period. Every item that I use must either be created by me (weapons, armour, jewelry, potions) or looted (metals, alchemical ingredients, leather, spellbooks). If there is ever a quest where Heef must buy a unique item to bring to someone else, I'll let him do that, but it can't be an item he can get any other way (e.g., he may not buy a mammoth tusk for Ysolde, he must find one; but if there's a quest where he must buy a specific item named "Ysolde's Mammoth Tusk" or w/e I'll let him do that), and he can't wear or use such an item on his way to bring it to the quest-giver.

    • No stealing from shops (or homes) either, though picking up free gifts after the shopkeeper becomes your friend is OK.
    • Money exchanges that are not buying from a shop's inventory are permitted: training is OK, as are things like paying 30 gold to learn the spell you need to get into the College at Winterhold the first time. (However, he can't buy spellbooks from any of the shopkeepers at the college.)

  • Heef may not use any non-homemade weapon or armour. He may disenchant a found item to learn how to use the enchantment in his own crafting, and in the case of artifacts, he may take them home to display them. If he needs to wear an item to get through a quest (e.g., the Saarthal amulet, which you need to put on to get past a magic door), he may do so, but he must take it off immediately afterward.

    • He may use certain items that cannot be crafted, like wooden bows (Hunting Bow, Longbow), divine amulets (or else he'd never be able to get married!), staves, clothing, and circlets. Needless to say, these items must be found, not bought, and any enchantments on such items must be his own (with the exception of the divine enchantments, which are unique and unlearnable because the gods are mysterious etc.).

  • He may not use any premixed potions or poisons. I ache whenever I see a Potion Of Ultimate Healing in a dungeon, let me tell you.

    • However, I consider frostbite poison and ice wraith essence to be raw ingredients, even though they behave like potions, so Heef can use them if he likes.

    • So far as I'm aware, skooma can't be brewed by the player, so Heef can use any skooma he finds if he really wants to I guess?

  • Raw materials are permitted even if they are not looted off the original source; for example, he may use alchemical ingredients and animal hides that are lying around in dungeons. This is the only way to get certain ingredients, like powdered mammoth tusks, which can't be harvested or crafted. Using found soul gems is a special case of this rule (soul gems are "raw ingredients" in that they can be mined in Blackreach, but if you think I'm going to wait that long to enchant a weapon you have another think coming).

  • I guess if I wanted to be a hardass about this I would forbid Heef to use looted ingots, forcing him to use only ore that he smelts himself. But that thought fills me with despair so I've decided that, e.g., looted silver ingots off Silver Hand corpses are OK; similarly with leather strips from cupboards.

  • I originally had a rule that he could only loot unfarmable food from barrels (thus he can use looted tomatoes but not looted leeks or potatoes, which he must hand-pick). But the game is so weird and arbitrary about what grows on farms (like, why the fuck can't you grow carrots?!) that I'm probably not going to bother with this much longer.

  • I briefly considered permitting him to use looted Forsworn, Falmer, and Ancient Nordic arrows, which cannot be crafted, but this made me feel dirty and I decided against it. I still collect those arrows to sell but will not equip them.

  • All the above rules apply to followers as well as Heef himself; he may only give them homemade items to use. This has the interesting side-effect that he can't ask them to carry items that he intends to disenchant or display later, because they'll put it on, meaning he has to micromanage the pack mule a little more than other characters might. Equipment that a follower comes with is OK -- Lydia had a steel sword before Heef learned steelworking -- because it just seems mean to make them sell something they own when entering the thane's service.

Can anyone think of any other exceptions or edge cases? I'm only level 18 so I am sure there are subtle judgements that I've missed so far.

How the game feels under this conductCollapse )

And finally, the obligatory silly screencapsCollapse )

P.S. Did you think Skyrim and Glitch were different games? THINK AGAINCollapse )

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23 revelations ~ carry me from shore to shore
I have a bunch of half-written posts about SRS TOPICS in the pipes, but finding time and energy to write has been a challenge over the course of this weird summer. So here's some fluff about computer games for now.

First of all and most importantly, I've started playing Skyrim again, because apparently I am a huge sucker for punishment. I wanted to make a different character this time, try some skills I never practiced before, pursue different plotlines (if there even are any?).

I also wanted to try to be a little less obsessive about the sorts of meaningless activities on which I wasted SO MUCH TIME my first time through. (The absurdity of "starting a new playthrough that wastes less time than the last one" is not lost on me.) I said to myself: "look, you've finished the game, so you know for a fact that there is never going to be a situation where you will need to have 317 thistle branches on hand; besides, even if there were such a situation, there is no place in this gigantic world where you can't get dozens of thistle branches within literally two minutes' walking distance; and BESIDES besides, it is much more efficient to just short your fucking thistle stock and fill your weight allowance with stuff that's worth more than goddamn thistles even if it means that you have to buy thistles later, so FOR FUCK SAKE STOP PICKING EVERY SINGLE THISTLE AND DO SOMETHING ELSE." Is what I said.

But so far I've found that... I can't. I just cannot stop fucking around with these pickable flowers and catchable butterflies and scrapeable mushrooms. It's a physical compulsion, a Skinner-switch. I am managing to choose my OCD-battles a little more carefully this time -- for instance, I now understand that there's no reason to hoard jewels, so I use them in crafting or just sell them rather than stashing hundreds of garnets in the drawer of my Whiterun end-table -- but the fact that I can now grit my teeth and sell the shit I hoard to a town shopkeeper doesn't really detract from the fact that I still fucking collect it. I still check every barrel, still hover the mouse pointer over each Amethyst (2) in the list, even though my new character would be JUST FINE if she let... it... go.


Of more relevance to my readers, at least the more indulgent ones, I've decided to marry someone besides Farkas in this playthrough (we've talked it over and he's cool with it; he's also cool with me suddenly being a different race than before, if indeed he even noticed). I haven't decided yet who the lucky Dragonborn Consort is going to be. Probably the first person who asks. I'm open to suggestions from this or any audience.

The game has other plans.

* * *

In indie game news, the eighth Humble Bundle collection was kind of a wash IMO; however, it was worth it if only for the BUT WHAT IS A VIDEO GAME REEEEEALLY conversations that it engendered/revived. For those of you who aren't closely following the indie game dev community and its constant hand-wringing about the Real Essence Of Gameness and/or Was I Ripped Off By Buying This Software That's Not Gamey Enough, well, it's a thing. I don't want to sound too dismissive of the conversation, since I do think the philosophical question of what makes a game a game is very interesting, but in this crowd there can be this weird policing of the boundaries of computer games (satirized by Kotaku here), which can get tiring.

Anyway, I have played several arguably-not-a-game games over the years, and some of them have been wonderful experiences (Glitch, Osmos), while others were just pretentious or pointless or incomprehensible (Passage, Trauma). Several not-exactly-games which started out as experiments or even straight-up parodies ended up finding loyal fanbases and a paradoxical beauty (Desert Bus, the unpausable game about a featureless eight-hour cross-country drive, is the focus of a lot of social events and a big annual charity drive; Cow Clicker, explicitly designed to make fun of Farmville-style Facebook moneygrabs, achieved a sort of Zen not-game-ness and accumulated a rabid following despite itself).

I bring all this up because two of the games that eventually made it into this year's Humble Bundle package were on this weird boundary between game and... something else, "film" or "meditative exercise" or "visual story" or something. This has caused an unbelievable amount of drama. On the one hand you have people saying "it's a fucking slide show, it's boring, when I buy a game I expect to have something to DO" and then you have people saying "obviously all you want is to waste your life playing Call Of Duty and killing pixelated soldiers, well, these games are more DEEP than that, and if your monkeymind doesn't find that ENTERTAINING ENOUGH then that's your problem," so the first people are all, "dude, moving a camera through some pretty pictures is not a fucking religious experience, it's a wanky waste of time, and calling out the nakedness of the emperor at the parade doesn't mean that I necessarily want to play Call of Duty all the time" and then it's all "YOU'RE JUST A SHALLOW DOPAMINE-DRIVEN PRIMATE" and then it's all "WELL YOU CAN'T TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PHILOSOPHICAL EXERCISES AND HOT AIR" and then I guess everybody has hatesex, I'm never at the party long enough to see how it ends.

For the record, whether a game is "game" "enough" matters very little to me -- there are certainly games that have lots and lots of numbers and graphics and words to read and shiny clickables, but which just fucking suck; but it's also true that clicky flashy things can sometimes serve to mask a game's other flaws (if Baldur's Gate had had as little to do as Desert Bus... uh, it might actually have been a better game, but at least I wouldn't have wasted 30 hours to see if "it got better").

Anyway, the two Humble games that I'm talking about are Dear Esther, which I loved (while recognizing that not everyone will), and Proteus, which I hated (while recognizing that lots of people got something out of it).

In structure the two games are very similar: they are not "games" so much as spaces to explore. The player can't really interact with anything. You can't jump, you can't pick anything up, and you can't alter the landscape in any way whatsoever. There are no other characters to talk to. There are no scores or quests or achievements. You have no inventory. You can't die. You just walk around and watch what happens around you, until you stop.

Now to plenty of people it is absolutely impossible to make a satisfying experience out of that, and that's totally fine, I get it. To me, it seems possible but really, really hard -- the designers of these games are forced to restrain themselves in the same way that a sonnet-writer or a silent movie director must. I think a lot of people assume that accomplishing anything at all under such self-imposed restrictions is some kind of artistic triumph, and I don't know, maybe it is, but personally I don't think it's self-evident EITHER that "silent movies / gameless games are intrinsically more artistic and cerebral than talkies / clickies" OR that "talkies / clickies are intrinsically more entertaining and interactive than silents / gamelesses." And of course the comparison with movies is another mistake; even though you are 'watching' the game like you 'watch' a movie, the entire structure of the experience is different since the player is choosing what to pay attention to and moving at the speed she prefers. A designer who's not aware of this and doesn't account for it is going to end up making something that's neither a movie nor a game. Just nothing. (Lots of people don't like not-game-games, but only the very worst of those games are NOTHING.)

Writing a review of Proteus and Dear Esther feels kind of like missing the point, so I'll just say a couple of things quickly about the thoughts they gave me about game design.Collapse )

Poll #1924635 Ludic dreaming

A game is not a game unless it has

A thing is probably a game if it has

The following are definitely games:

The stock market
Keeping WTF out of the cheese puffs
Global thermonuclear war
Fitness apps with 'achievements'
Arming a bunch of little kids and putting them in a forest until most of them die
The Price Is Right
Laser pointers, if you are a kitten
Collecting thistle branches in Skyrim

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49 revelations ~ carry me from shore to shore
A few months ago pyrop recommended I pick up a copy of Constellation Games, a novel about a dude who writes snarky reviews of the video games that aliens make. The Kindle version was only $5 and pyrop's taste and mine align pretty well, so I ordered it right away. But then I forgot about it because I often go for months without turning on my Kindle. (I love my Kindle, I really do; it's just that when I think, "I feel like reading a book," my instinct is still to reach for paper.)

Damn me for waiting this long, though, because this book is terrific. Just brilliant and funny and thoughtful and weirdly deep despite itself. Ignore the cheesy cover art and the unhelpful subtitle and Cory Doctorow's name all over the web page: this is a great story.

The premise is as follows: aliens from a federation of allied species called the Constellation suddenly burst through a wormhole and start building a space station on the moon. They reach out hands (paws, claws, tentacles) in peace to human beings, who are simultaneously fascinated by and terrified of their new friends. Enter Ariel Blum, a shiftless twentysomething who programs pony-themed casual games for a Brazilian company that cynically manipulates the emotions of ten-year-old girls. Blum writes game reviews on his blog to pass the time, and when first contact is established, he half-kiddingly invites the aliens to send him some of their computer games to review.

To his surprise, one of the aliens takes him up on his offer... sort of. Thus begins a weird virtual friendship between Ariel and an alien called Curic, mostly mediated through IM, fraught with hilarious but simultaneously touching misunderstandings. Curic, for reasons of her own, sends Ariel gifts of gaming rigs fitted with emulators, along with links to the so-called "Constellation Database Of Electronic Games Of A Certain Complexity", which includes millions of years' worth of games, often created by long-extinct alien species.

minor spoilers followCollapse )

The games, as a driving allegory, really hold the book together, and they give an edge to its often laugh-out-loud humour. This is one of the more eminently quotable books I've read in a while. Sample lulz follow, no spoilers at all.Collapse )

I'm really glad I read this. It has a bit of a breathless, dialogue-heavy, adjective-light style that might not appeal to everybody -- in this it reminds me a bit of Jennifer Government, which it resembles in a handful of other ways too -- but Leonard Richardson is, I think, a more mature writer than Max Barry is (was?) and his ideas are more ambitious. Well worth the $5 I paid for it, and I'll definitely fork out for the next one too. If you've read it, I'd love to hear what you think.

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7 revelations ~ carry me from shore to shore
O Internet, I am less sick than before but still quite sick! However, my mood is sunny because I have been reminded of how much I love double dactyls. Witness this sublime example of the form, created by our very own pts:

Star Trek: Into Darkness spoiler, milder than a Kansas salsaCollapse )

I include my own far inferior construction for completeness' sake:

This spoiler is inoffensive even to me, though I can"t say the same about the poemCollapse )

It has been more than three years since I had a dactylothon in this-here journal (the post is here, but the scansion in some of my contributions to that thread embarrass me so DON'T HOLD ME TO THEM). Shall we revive the poetic spirit, sisters and brothers? What media have you been consuming lately, and what can you tell me about it? Do you have scathing reviews of Arrested Development or Iron Man 3 to share in verse? I promise to try to respond to every poem with one of my own, if it's a fandom I know anything about.

FOR THE RECORD, the judges will also accept information in limerick form. Or McWhirtles, or (for bonus points) double amphibrachs. BASICALLY ANY SILLY POEM IS WHAT I AM LOOKING FOR. (Spoilers OK; I will ETA to warn for any up here.)

The promised ETA: Spoilers for Star Trek and Archer in comments!


31 revelations ~ carry me from shore to shore
People have said kind things about my game writing and I'm certainly proud of some of it, but sometimes I wish I weren't so tl;dr all the time. For instance, my two huge LJ posts about Bioshock: Infinite could easily have been replaced by these 180 words without losing any value whatsoever.

But the good Lord made me a blabby sort and so I'm going to blab some more! Today's theme is randomized, endlessly replayable strategy games of the sort that consumed my entire university career, a genre which seems to maybe be making a comeback? Which is a good thing (I loved those games) and a terrible thing (I HAVE SHIT TO DO or so I'm told).

Capsule reviews of Space Pirates and Zombies, Dungeons of Dredmor, Faster Than Light, Tales of Maj"Eyal, XCOM: Enemy UnknownCollapse )

XCOM screencapsCollapse )

Of the five, Dungeons of Dredmor is the only one that passes any kind of gender test (XCOM gets a "pass with revisions"), and XCOM is the only one that passes a race test.

  • DoD has lots of female monsters and a very cute female PC to play (white, though), and the flavour text for skills and items is generally gender-neutral.

  • SPAZ has a token lady on the crew, whose only purpose is to urge everyone to be a little bit nicer; everybody else is a dude (I think: there is one sort of androgynous scientist you meet later) and there are rape jokes.

  • FTL's crew is randomized but an unscientific survey suggests that about 80% of the names it offers you are dude's names, and I don't think you meet any women on your travels at all; the avatars are all white.

  • The towns I've visited so far in ToME are exclusively populated by men -- there is literally no woman in any low-level town unless you yourself are playing one -- though I guess they get a point for making a female PC the default choice at character generation.

  • XCOM has a token lady scientist at HQ -- a pretty cool character, as it happens -- but in the background scenes with scientists and soldiers and engineers running around, everybody is a dude, and you have to work pretty hard to put ladies on your own squadron since the random number generator seems to prefer men (might just be my bad luck, though). Good race stuff, though: your soldiers are drawn from 14 different countries, and their names and physical appearances are appropriate to where they're from (INCLUDING the possibility to roll up black or Hispanic characters from the U.S., Canada, and the U.K.: THANK YOU for not associating anglo countries exclusively with whiteness). I loved looking at my roster and seeing such a great variety of names from around the world.

I actually think indie games might be more casually racist/misogynist than big-business games these days, since boutique designers (especially for the strategy and roguelike games of the sort that I like) don't have a large female player base to pressure them financially, and I can't remember the last time I saw a woman on any of the dev teams. (I'm remembering when the two devs for Revenge of the Titans, a tower defense game that I really love, put up an ad on their blog to hire a third team member: as a "joke" they said that one of the benefits to working with them would be "you get all the chicks." Because there are no female or gay programmers anywhere in the world, right? Though I guess female AND gay is okay. :/ )

So yeah, in this indie design underground, there's no challenge to the 1970's worldview that says that everybody in space is a white bloke, every engineer is a white bloke, every soldier is a white bloke, every pirate is a white bloke, every spy is a white bloke. It feels so boring to me to be complaining about this stuff all the time, but you know what's more boring? HAVING ALL THE GAMES I LIKE FILLED WITH IDIOT MISOGYNY. FUCKING STOP IT, YOU GUYS, JESUS.

But anyway, do consider playing XCOM, especially if you like moving soldiers around on a board and firing shoulder-mounted rockets into trees. If you're anything like me, you'll reroll your squads until you get lots of ladies and then everything will be oooookay.

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13 revelations ~ carry me from shore to shore
I gotta say, never have I been so disappointed by the second half a game after enjoying the first half this much. Bioshock: Infinite had a lot of promise, with a setting and an opening scene that were just dynamite. But it started losing the plot around halfway through, turned into literal nonsense maybe 3/4 of the way through, and now that I'm in the endgame I find myself just not giving a shit any more.

I think my biggest mistake was to hope that this would be a role-playing game. That was pretty silly of me: it's an FPS. It's only ever advertised itself as an FPS, and the reviews have only ever called it an FPS. There is no promise, implicit or explicit, of any role-playing whatsoever. I guess that since the setting was so interesting, and since it built itself around a "story", I sort of thought that I might be able to make some in-game choices that would help me identify with the protagonist or at least wish him well. The game dangled that possibility in front of me a couple of times by presenting two options at a couple of points, such as when minor spoilerCollapse )

So you have no option but to play the protagonist, Booker DeWitt, the way they wrote him, which is to say: a total douche. I think his douchery is partially deliberate; he's a mercenary, and it's clear that he doesn't have much of a moral centre. But the result was that I hated him. I'm not talking about the apathetic detachment I feel toward most colourless FPS heroes, no, I actively hated Booker. I hated every stupid thing that came out of his mouth, I hated that he would be presented with a thousand opportunities to say something at least MARGINALLY non-assholish and yet he always said the most callous thing possible, I hated his awkward and overly-aggressive attempts at "wisecracking". I suppose that the dudebros who play this game might consider this attempt to create a 1915 John McClane awesome and hilarious. But it grossed me out, and in fact if the in-game conversations weren't crucial to understanding what to do next I would have turned the sound off so I wouldn't have had to listen to him any more.

How much of a shit he is is made abundantly clear after mid-game spoilersCollapse )

A big problem, I think, is that the game designers had some ideas for new game mechanics, and then tried to shoehorn the story into them, rather than writing an awesome story and then coming up with mechanics to support it. (See also: skylines, which, oh God don't even get me started.) The worst example of these clumsy ill-fitting mechanics is what they call tearsCollapse )

But it turns out that tears are a sign of even weirder (read: stupider) shit to come. late-game spoilersCollapse )

There are things I liked about the game. I thought the antagonist was interesting, if ham-handedly "cultish". (It's frequently the case that writers give no reason for their characters to be persuaded by a cult leader at all, beyond just PEOPLE ARE SHEEPLE AND RELIGION IS STUPID HURR DURR, and B:I doesn't do much better than average in this regard. The cult itself, however, feels very authentically 19th-century American and I liked the way that the alternate scriptures played off real Puritan Christianity in a Book of Mormon kind of way.) I loved the creepy-ass patriotism, which was my favourite part of the setting. And, like Bioshock before it, B:I did some really clever stuff with clunky period-ish robots and vending machines.

I've been to parts of Virginia that actually look like this.

Early in the game there are some powerful statements about racism that reached their apex in midgame spoilersCollapse )

It was interesting playing this so soon after playing Fable III, which had a very similar subplot about an industrialist exploiting his workers, and which used some very similar visual and textual shorthand to assure the player that Industrialism is Bad. LOL@ the mass media's anxieties about labour exploitation, amirite? Do you think maybe it has something to do, not with 1915, but rather with THE WORLD WE LIVE IN NOW?! Anyway, I can't believe I'm saying this, but I think F3 did it better, though B:I definitely had its moments too.

Aw, man, I was trying to end on a positive note but I just ended up complaining again. Poop. I do like the game and I'm glad I played it. But I feel really let down by it. I feel like the designers, who excelled so much at portraying the silent, uninhabited world that was Bioshock, didn't really know how to write a plot that had actual people in it. And they made a bunch of very stupid plot arc / genre decisions without thinking them through, which made the thing in the end feel like kind of a hot mess. At least I have CAKE! Manky cake from a barrel, but cake nonetheless.

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14 revelations ~ carry me from shore to shore
Fable III is an unbelievably strange game. It has a lot going for it: a big, open-ended quest system; genuinely funny writing; terrific voice-acting by, like, really famous people; cool items that change powers based on your play style; and several creative moral/gameplay choices that actually raise the stakes for the player (a refreshing change from the "be evil, get more money / be good, get less money" morality that seems to be the best that most RPG writers can manage after forty years). The graphics are lovely, with a sort of magazine-illustrator aesthetic that sets it apart from a billion similar games, and which gives a lot of flavour and personality to things like in-world advertisements and paintings.

The game has a lot of flaws -- on which I will write copious amounts below, DON'T YOU WORRY -- but it also has a lot of charms. So I have spent much of the week playing it with my head tilted at a sort of confused-dog angle as I tried to figure out what I actually think of it. Short version: I think I'd recommend it, especially since it frequently goes on sale on Steam and can be had for only a few dollars, and there's lots of fun to be had. However, I have serious reservations about it, and I think there's a certain kind of player for whom the flaws will make it completely unplayable.

Plot synopsis, not that it matters: you play a prince or princess whose older brother, the reigning king (played by Michael Fassbender, WTF), has lost his shit and is now abusing his subjects with exploitative labour practices and outrageous taxes. One crappy morning, he cracks down on a group of destitute protestors, and you are forced to flee the castle and go out into the wide world. The story is actually a bit more interesting than it sounds from that summary, for reasons that I won't spoil, but generally it's standard fantasy-verging-on-steampunk stuff.

You're accompanied in your escape by your butler, Woodhouse "Jasper", voiced by John Cleese (!!!), along with your master-at-arms, played by Bernard Hill (i.e., Theoden in the LoTR movies). Jasper has a complicated meta-role in the game -- he's your tutorial guide, your inventory manager, your cartographer, and just generally your GUI. And this, to my mind, is the most frustrating flaw in the game: the interface is ALL managed through Jasper and the extradimensional space where he works. It is FUCKED. UP. The game has no menus. Literally no menus. It seems that, in an effort to be "immersive" or something, the designers decided to make everything a fucking ROOM: if you want to change your clothes, you can't open up an inventory panel, no, you have to go into a closet and paw through your outfits; if you want to check your real estate holdings, you can't pop open a finance tab, nooooo, you have to go into DIFFERENT room with a LEDGER that you page through (that room also contains a growing pile of coins representing your hoard, Smaug-style, which I must admit is oddly satisfying); if you want to swap out weapons, you can't just hit some hotkey, nooooooo, you have to go into your armoury and take the weapon down from a stand; if you're curious about the achievements you got recently, you can't just read a list of them anywhere, nnnOOOOOooooo, you have to physically walk past a wall where they're mounted. You can't even load or save from a menu: you go into a "save room" -- that's what it's actually called -- where a bunch of mannequins representing several past versions of you can be selected. Certain kinds of inventory items can't be accessed at all: I have no way to know how many gems or sacks of flour I've acquired until I go to a pawnbroker and try to hock them.

All these GUI-rooms are in some sort of alternate dimension that you can reach any time by hitting Esc, and game-time doesn't pass while you're in that world, so you can still change weapons during combat or whatever. So it's functionally equivalent to a paperdoll inventory or options menu. But oh God, whyyyy do I have to load the 3D graphics for a room, and then WALK THROUGH THAT ROOM and CLICK ON THE CORRECT MANNEQUIN and SCROLL THROUGH THE MANNEQUIN'S STUFF, just to put on a hat? What the fuck, Molyneux? (Thank heavens for John Cleese, who is funnier in this game than he's been IRL in at least 15 years -- his snide commentary on your accumulated wealth / taste in clothes / violent proclivities never stops being amazing, and it almost makes the endless trips through your inventory worthwhile.) The map, too, is catastrophically useless, with imprecise, impressionist drawings of very complex landscapes, and "quick travel" takes you only as far as the entry point to what is often a huge and monster-filled zone (as opposed to, say, the settlement you need to visit). I like grinding but I really don't need to kill 46 skeletons each time I want to drop off a quest item at an outpost.

I play Dwarf Fortress, so I know from shitty interfaces, and some games do manage to make it worth the headache of fighting them. I can't really tell whether Fable 3 does, though. This leads me to my second comment about the game: I'm not sure exactly what tone they're going for? The mother-colour of the game, as it were, is goofy, sweet and kinda camp.


There's a lot of juvenile humour (including the most elaborately animated fart I've ever seen in an RPG); there's a quest which involves sitting on a throne in a chicken suit; there's a plot where you hunt down rogue lawn gnomes that hurl playground insults at you from their hiding places ("it's a beautiful day... except where you're standing"). And much of the game is almost cloyingly sweet. I've spent hours playing fetch with my IC dog, even though there's no in-game reason to do it. And there's a game mechanic to "take someone's hand", which you use for everything from saving lost children to dragging criminals to prison to going on dates with townsfolk. Running through the fields clutching some NPC's hand is just tragically adorable.

But then there's some really dark stuff... like, sort of discomfitingly dark? Don't get me wrong, I love bleak, dystopian worlds (I replayed Bioshock just last week, so clearly I'm happy to sign up for more abuse even after the first round), but something about the tee-hee humour of F3 combined with sudden incursions of the creepy puts me off-balance. Case in point: one of the primary antagonists is spoilerCollapse )

Now I'm not finished the game yet, and I have a sense that this inconsistency in mood is partially deliberate: as Albion's "industrial revolution" progresses, certain plot points show that the world is about to change for the worse in more than just economic/environmental ways. Still, I think there's a difference between "beautiful world gradually becoming dark so that the player experiences a real sense of loss" and "fart jokes and chicken suits + grim commentary about indentured servitude", and I'm not sure F3 always gets that balance right.

LOLOLOLOL... wait, what?

The Fable series has always been big on creating in-game relationships, and in this game they go all out on the sexytimes. You can get married an unlimited number of times, so far as I can tell (to people of both genders); you can have babies (deliberately or by accident -- there's birth control in the game, which you can use or ignore as you see fit) or adopt them; I think you can have extramarital sex too (though I've never managed to pull it off, I think because the person I was trying to seduce had "prudish" as a character trait). There are prostitutes of both genders, and the male one I found is so hilarious that I can almost forgive the presence of the fucking tedious trope (about which I apparently can't stop complaining).

This is not him.

Marriage in F3 is a lot like marriage in Skyrim, which is to say, it's more or less meaningless, and choosing one character over another doesn't have any real game effect. This depressing in one sense: like, dating is just a mechanic, it's a thing you grind just like combat or wealth. You accumulate jewellery and other treasures in dungeons, which you then dump on your partner to keep their Sims-like "happiness meter" up... and don't even get me started about the in-game advantages to seducing shopkeepers to get lower prices. What this says about human relationships is too awful to think upon. But the one-dimensionality of F3 relationships is kind of awesome in another sense: I don't have to put up with some idiot writer's idea of my partner's "personality", nor do I have to micromanage their interaction with my heroic narrative, and I can choose a lover based entirely on the backstory I personally write about them. In this game I chose to marry "Joanna", a "middle-class lesbian" with a fantastic hat. Whenever I'm in the mood, I can take her by the hand with the H command and take her to bed.

Or just to the lake.

I kind of want a husband too but I haven't picked one yet; I like Ian the blacksmith with his biker duds and handlebar moustache, but there's also a dreadlocked dude in Mourningwood I've got a hankering for. Maybe I'll have both! I'm wealthy enough to buy houses for all of them, and I have enough spare gifts from dungeon raids to shower everybody with jewels, so clearly I can WIN the relationship mini-game. [KILLS SELF]

As silly as this system is, in some ways it's preferable to the love stories in games like Dragon Age or Knights of the Old Republic, where each potential partner has a whole shitload of overwrought prewritten dialogue and prefab backstory to churn through; it is EXCEEDINGLY rare that the writing for these characters impresses me enough for me to find them appealing at all (though there are some exceptions: I AM LOOKING AT YOU, ZEVRAN). I wrote a thing last year about how in Skyrim I preferred the "stupid" character Farkas to his "smart" brother Vilkas, because the Skyrim writers wrote "stupid" effectively and "smart" annoyingly; well, I'm happy to report that in F3 ALLLL the characters are stupid, so I find them all equally attractive. I WIN AGAIN.

Obligatory gender report: F3 is irritating, like pretty much every game I've ever played is irritating, in that almost every speaking part belongs to a dude -- check the IMDB page if you want non-spoilery evidence of how fucking bro-centric the cast list is. Just like in Assassin's Creed, which I was complaining about in these pages not so long ago, you'll never meet a town guard or soldier or bandit who's not a bloke. If I weren't playing a female character, I would hardly see any (non-townsfolk) women at all. So I guess Lionhead Studios had the cash to hire Simon fucking Pegg but they couldn't get a graduate student to voice some ladies for the town watch? Fuck you, Molyneux, seriously.

But the game is no worse than any other in this regard, and it does do some things right, like changing the dialogue to reflect the fact that you're a girl if you choose to play a girl. You'd be surprised how many games don't even bother doing that, which sadly means it's REALLY NICE when people say things like "the prophecies speak of a great hero, and she will be our salvation" etc. On the QUILTBAG front, besides the numerous gay characters (not all of whom are "joyless", promise), there is one pretty great canonical cross-dressing moment which, forgive me, [is maybe kinda hot?]is maybe kinda hot?

Achievement unlocked indeed.

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30 revelations ~ carry me from shore to shore
Everyone told me Tron: Legacy was a terrible movie so I ignored it, since I don't really like my childhood being put in a bag and left on my doorstep like so much flaming poo. I loved the original movie, of course, but it was actually the video game that defined my adolescence. (Apparently I'm not the only one, since Wikipedia says the video game made more money than the movie did in the 80s.) I put many many many many quarters into that old cabinet, let me tell you.

Anyway, it so happened that Tron: Legacy was on TV and my PVR was full so I decided to watch it "just to see what they did with the lightcycles", since I could watch lightcycles all day basically. FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO WERE NOT THERE THE FIRST TIME 'ROUND: WATCH AND LEARN.

After my dad took me to see this movie as a kid, he took the opportunity to explain the concept of banked turns to me.

Tron: Legacy is even worse than everybody says it was. I can't remember the last time I watched a film where the script didn't even make grammatical sense; there were at least half a dozen lines of dialogue that literally didn't parse. ("Given the prices we charge to students and schools, what sort of improvements have been made in Flynn... I mean ENCOM OS-12?" is an actual thing that one dude was paid to write and another dude was paid to say.) The times the sentence structure did happen to work, there was zero content, either because it was just the affectless male lead going "Huh?" or "No!" or "That's a big door!" (I wish I were making that up), or because it was Jeff Bridges trying to be... Zen... or something. I didn't think there could be fake Zen even worse than the Matrix, but there it is.

Be that as it may, I watched the movie to the end, because I loved the soundtrack, and YES I LOVED THE LIGHTCYCLE FIGHTS SHUT UP, and I really really loved this guy:


Apparently people complained that the world was boring and colourless, but I personally find it beautiful and soothing. The constantly-parodied glowy-stripy outfits have always been so hypnotic to me.

Final report: I would gladly buy a DVD of this movie BUT ONLY IF it silenced the dialogue track, so I could just watch dudes killing each other with motorcycles they made out of lightsabres while listening to Daft Punk, the end.

What beloved movie from your childhood can you not BEAR the thought of Hollywood remaking?

What movie, from your childhood or otherwise, do you think would benefit from a remake?


Battle Tanks
Mechanical Spiders
Rainbow Cone

* * *

In other cultural consumption news, there... isn't much, really. I've been playing a lot of Torchlight lately, because it requires no thinking. This is my character, Eona, who is an "Engineer". Hilariously, this is the tanking class in Torchlight (engineers!). Please note that Eona is armed with a CANNON and a KITTEN.


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8 revelations ~ carry me from shore to shore
O Friendslist, it is Valentine's Day, and though I (ironically) have no great love for the holiday I want you to know I love all of YOU. I have opened this post to anonymous comments, and I have turned IP logging off, and I invite you all to write things you do not wish to write elsewhere, things you would rather not share in the bleaching spotlight of that Other Social Network. Or just things that are on your mind, trivial or otherwise. The only rule is: be kind to everyone, including yourself; on this day I insist.
29 revelations ~ carry me from shore to shore

Longtime readers will remember my obsession with Dwarf Fortress, which I started playing in 2006 (!) and which has never stopped growing since then. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the game, I wrote a little intro/review-y thing here. Basically it's a city-building adventure game with no 'graphics', just ASCII characters displayed in an intimidating Matrix-like screen dump to represent each item, creature, machine, or terrain feature on a map of your territory, all of which are moving quickly across the screen in real time. You manage everything from flour mills to irrigation systems to beehives, all of which you build from scratch out of materials that you grow out of the ground or cut out of the stone.

It is impossible to overstate how insanely complicated this game is. The New York Times quotes an engineer who says, “The processing power that Dwarf Fortress uses is on the same scale as modern engineering software for designing aerospace hardware.” As of last month, the game is on permanent display at the MoMA.

I put DF aside for a year or so, and just picked it back up over the holiday. I no longer remember why I stopped playing; knowing me, it's probably because I had a really good fortress going and then something horrible happened to it and I got sad and swore I'd never play again. Or maybe I just got distracted by Glitch or Skyrim or whatever else I spent 2012 doing. Anyway, the upshot is I haven't really spent that much time getting to know the features that were added in the major 2010 release: military squad management, hospitals for the wounded, pastures for large animals (that you can now milk and shear). Even more stuff has been added since, like pottery (scarily complex) and... uh, vampires.

My first fortress of 2012 was short-lived. A couple of years in, I got the message that one of my dwarves had triplets, which was cool because I'd never seen multiple births before (not even twins). I started making plans for twelve years in the future, when the siblings would reach working age: would I give them all the same jobs or different ones? Could I somehow persuade them to share a room after they leave their mother's side? Maybe I could elevate them to the nobility and create a mini-dynasty!

But, as is so often the case in myth, an unusual birth is the harbinger of terrible things to comeCollapse )

Sadly, the current version of the game is buggy as all hell, and there hasn't been an update since the summer. As a result, the game is both more fun and more frustrating than I remember it being: there's a lot more to do, and so many new things to discover... but a lot of it also doesn't work? Except maybe it does work and I just can't find the right command in any of 12 nested menus? The menus in the game are so poorly designed and badly integrated with one another that it's hard to tell whether a feature is busted or whether you just aren't hitting the right key. True Believers will defend the UI, but it's objectively appalling: you can't access a dwarf's inventory if you're looking at her on the overland map, only by finding her on the master population list; it's easy to forget that you're expected to manage your animals from a well-hidden tab on the [Z]tatus screen, and not from the list of animal [U]nits; further, the animals are ordered by age which is pretty much the LEAST USEFUL way of displaying them; figuring out when you need to use [Q]ueue orders as opposed to loo[K] or i[T]ems-inside-buildings to get a piece of information you need is not immediately obvious, nor is it obvious later (to choose only one of many annoying examples, loo[K]ing at an item doesn't show you its quality, only [T] does that); what counts as a "room" and what counts as a "zone" and what counts as a "burrow" is only intuitive maybe 75% of the time; whether you use the arrow keys or + and - to navigate menus is, so far as I can tell, totally random, and in some menus you have to use both at once; floodgates are L in one menu and F in another menu and X in yet a third; do not even get me STARTED about the military menus DO NOT EVEN.

Now a lot of people are proud of themselves for having mastered this incomprehensible system, which I sort of understand (I mean, I do think I'm pretty badass for playing Dwarf Fortress, and I confess to some small sense of superiority over wussy Minecraft players), but those folks have been inside the game so long that they forget how bad the UI is. As a result, you get a lot of shouty crap from fans along the lines of ANYONE WHO COMPLAINS ABOUT THE UI IS A SISSY, GO BACK TO TIDDLYWINKS IF YOU'RE NOT MAN ENOUGH TO LEARN DF etc. But I dunno, for all my love for the game I really do wish that Tarn occasionally made an effort to make the commands make sense. Call me a dreamer but I think it's possible to have a UI that's both complex and logical, and DF's is one but not the other.

Anyway, when something baffles me in DF, which is basically all the time even after six years and hundreds of hours of play, I have to minimize the window and pop over to the wiki and, failing that, the bug tracker. The bug tracker is AMAZING, because a game as weird and as multilayered as DF is going to have some pretty epic bugs, and the descriptions of them by themselves create crazy little narrativesCollapse )

I wouldn't want to put anyone off playing the game. There are a lot of really good tutorials online, and I promise it rewards the effort you put into learning it. I guess I'm just not completely smitten with version 34.11 right now: the new stuff isn't running quiiiite smoothly yet, which means I end up falling back on the same stuff I was doing before. Which is to say, making gloves out of kitten leather. JUST AS I DO IN REAL LIFE.


13 revelations ~ carry me from shore to shore
Thanks to the Humble Bundles, I've been playing a lot of indie PC games lately. A few of them have been truly wonderful (TRINE ♥), but recently I've been in the mood for something a little more big-budget and epic -- something with a cast of thousands and miles of terrain to explore and, y'know, a sky you can tilt the camera up and look at. ENOUGH WITH THESE GLORIFIED SIDESCROLLERS, in other words.

All this is by way of saying that I'm v. eagerly waiting for the next Skyrim or Fallout in which to immerse myself. In fact, I came very close to reinstalling both Skyrim and Fallout -- partially to scratch this epic-game itch, and partially to prepare for Yuletide (though I eventually bailed out of Yuletide for reasons I may write about elsewhere).


AC2 Viewpoint Tuscany Church

AC2 was on sale for five bucks on Steam, who I guess are gearing up for the imminent release of AC3. I was on vacation, I had long since burned out on Diablo, and I didn't want to drop $60 on Guild Wars and then spend the rest of my week off trying to schedule play sessions with friends in other time zones. So AC2 it was.

I hasten to say, in case my tedious lead-up + kapow headline is misleading, that AC2 is no Skyrim, and it sure as hell ain't no Fallout. Every single conversation in AC2 is in a cutscene, so you don't even get the illusion of a character with any personality or free will. There are exactly zero dialogue choices. You "die" and have to reload if you so much as leave the map area where your current quest is.1 The linear plot permits no branching. There are side-quests that you may ignore if you like, and if you do choose to do them you can do them in any order, so there is gameplay variety in that sense. But other than that, you're riding along that painted tunnel of the console game, stuck, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, with the character that's been written for you.

I am weirdly fascinated by the protagonist, one Ezio Auditore, whom the writers clearly think is sexy and mysterious but who is in reality a huge dork. HUUUUUUUUGE DORRRRRK. I mean, he has basically the best outfit of all time (that Helmschmied armour! bestill my heart!) and his face is obscured by his hood like 80% of the time, so it's easy to forget that he's not actually a smoulderingly hot stranger who will sweep you off your feet.

AC2 Pigeon
"Looked like Tyson holding that dove."

In the tutorial, you are taught how to climb by way of a mini-quest where you scale a wall into a young woman's room. After a night of passion or w/e, the girl's father finds you in flagrante delicto2 and throws you out of the house. The following morning, you're given a stern talking-to by your own father, who's all OH YOU SCAMP, THAT WAS SOME HILARIOUS SHENANIGANS RIGHT THERE, YOU REMIND ME OF MYSELF WHEN I WAS YOUNG, etc. which I guess is meant to signal that Ezio is a smooth-tongued charmer and a hit with the ladies but of course it's all in good fun because he's an assassin with a big heart!

But for the rest of the game, you are a typical RPG character, which is to say you are always HERPADERP WHAT'S GOING ON, WHO ARE THESE GUYS, IS THERE A CONSPIRACY, SURE I'LL TAKE YOUR QUEST FOR 250 FLORINS, WAIT WHAT'S THE QUEST AGAIN, I GUESS IT'S TIME TO GO TO THIS OTHER TOWN NOW, and so on ad nauseam. In order to make the game more "historically authentic", everyone talks in English with a sitcommy Italian accent, which is of course so much closer to Quattrocento Florentine talk than standard American English. (That said, people do occasionally cuss in Italian when they get worked up, and the actors even do it passably well; this I like, and it would have been fine by itself without all the "ey, getta downa offa the roofa" stuff.)

The overall effect of the faux-Italian, of course, is not so much to make Ezio sexy as to make him even more derpy. Example, illustrated with the v. mildest of text spoilersCollapse )

Speaking of dinky heroes, I'm curious as to who the audience for this game is supposed to be. On the one hand, it's about as Bechdel-friendly as Duke Nukem: there are no female soldiers, nobles, guards, petty criminals, couriers, merchants, or fellow assassins anywhere that I've seen, which is the sort of view of historical reality that only a dudebro gamer could come up with and that only a dudebro audience could find the least bit interesting. Occasionally you'll bump into a lady walking on the street, but none are interactable-with after you're finished with your tutorial girlfriend.

At least there are WHORES! Can't have a fantasy game without WHORES!

But as gender theorists and fanfic writers worldwide have so often noted, aggressively masculine social spaces sort of paradoxically transform into homoerotic spaces, which explains phenomena like ultra-gay locker rooms and military barracks and superhero lairs and so on. The poufy shirts and velvet hair ribbons of the fantasy Florentine merchant class, combined with the game's resistance to open combat in favour of hiding and sneaking, make something about AC2 feel like it's designed to have some kind of weird sexual charge to it. Which may well be true about the Wolfensteins and Half-Lifes of the world too, of course, but here the (traditionally-defined) effeminacy is actually hardwired into the setting and creates for me a really interesting tension with the machismo of your bloodstained hero.

Here portrayed immediately after simultaneously stabbing two guys in the face.

Okay, let's get down to brass tacks. What I'm really saying is: is there anything in the world more gay than Ezio watching Leonardo da Vinci build shit in his workshop? The porn pretty much writes itself.

"I'm supposed to put my penis where?"

There is a little bit of sandboxiness to AC2, since you're free to explore the city whenever you want a break from questing, and there are lots of hidden areas and secret treasures to find and collect. That, I guess, is why it manages to scratch a bit of the Skyrim itch after all. And there are some downright ingenious mechanics tweaks that I really love (viz., "viewpoints" as an assassin-appropriate way of dealing with fog of war; dodging guards by fading into a crowd; even the QWOP-like head/hand/body controls which are awkward as fuck but end up working kind of brilliantly once you figure them out). But the linearity of the game means that there isn't a lot of emergent gameplay, at least not that I've seen so far (I think I might be about halfway through?), so my posts about it will probably not be nearly as WTF as the stuff I wrote about Skyrim last year. Apologies in advance for those of you who were hoping for MOAR FARKAS MARRIAGE DRAMA.

(But if I could make Ezio marry Leonardo, I totally would.)

Nevertheless, I'll probably post a couple million more screencaps over the next few weeks, because I never tire of seeing Ezio spidercrawl across a stained-glass window and neither should you.

1 The "dying" thing is complicated, because technically you're not a Renaissance dude, but a modern dude who's time-travelling/mind-melding into a Renaissance ancestor by way of a futuristic brainmachine. You "desynchronize" with the hero if you do anything that he didn't do in his own time, including dying too soon, killing a key historical figure, or, uh, like, walking off the map. It's an interesting metanarratological way to make multiple video-game deaths sort of make sense in-world, and to make "reloads" IC -- not to mention psychologically distancing the "real" hero from all the very gory murders his protagonist-ancestor was responsible for. That said, I don't give even a fraction of a shit about the modern story and I would have been perfectly happy if the game had started in 1470 and stayed there the whole while.

2 Except I think in the story it's post flagrante delicto, not that you'd know for sure since the camera is tastefully pointed at the window rather than the happy couple, but then I vaguely remembered that post takes the accusative, so I guess it would be post flagrantem delictem, and then I started to doubt myself since I've never seen the word "delicto" in any other case, at which point I had a seizure and had to stop typing.

3 Sadly I don't have any screencaps of the Duomo stuff, because I hadn't realized at that point that the game is shit at managing its own screencaps and I eventually had to download a third-party utility to do it for me. Fuck you, Ubisoft, making these gorgeous games and then not giving me a way to put that gorgeousness into my Livejournal.

4 There is no Footnote 4.


22 revelations ~ carry me from shore to shore
I have a dark confession to make, O my friendslist. I have had e-readers for years but very rarely use them. My Kindle's batteries last a month, and yet they often beg for a recharge when I think to turn the machine on.

I don't have any chauvinisim against e-readers; I'm not the sort of person who chants IT'S NOT A REAL BOOK IF IT DOESN'T SMELL LIKE DAMP AND MOLD AND WEIGH THREE POUNDS. I love the idea of e-readers and I'm impressed by my Kindle. I just never remember to bring it with me anywhere; and if I do remember to bring it I never remember to turn it on. If I consciously decide that I'm in the mood to read something, I generally reach for a paper book.

I'm going to try to fix that on this trip out west. Some months ago I downloaded the Baen collection of the Vorkosigan saga, which is pretty much universally adored by everybody on my friendslist (though if you're an exception, let me know in a spoiler-free way), and into which I have never even dipped a toe. I plan to toe-dip over the course of my vacation.

Except... I have no idea how to navigate this thing. The table of contents of my CD reads as follows:

  • Cordelia's Honor
  • Cryoburn
  • Diplomatic Immunity
  • Miles Errant
  • Miles In Love
  • Miles, Mutants and Microbes
  • Miles, Mystery and Mayhem
  • The Vorkosigan Companion
  • Young Miles

I tried googling some recommendations but the things on the lists don't match this ToC. For example, this person lists like 12 books I don't have (or do I?), and doesn't mention the ones I do have. A lot of websites have detailed plot summaries and other stuff I don't want to know, so I refuse to read them carefully just so I can figure out where to start. I have a sense that some of the ones I have are collections, maybe? What should I virtually crack open first?

I leave at dark o'clock in the morning and will have no access to COMPUTOR until my return next week. creases and belle_noiseuse will be looking after the kittens while I am gone. PLEASE DO NOT KILL MY FRIENDS, KITTENS. NOT VERY MANY PEOPLE LIKE ME AND I DO NOT KNOW WHETHER I WILL BE ABLE TO FIND ANY MORE FRIENDS.


14 revelations ~ carry me from shore to shore
[Spoilers under cuts.]

I don't know if it's this weird mood I've been in for the past couple of weeks or what, but Lev Grossman's The Magicians just fucking slayed me. I can't remember the last time I felt this simultaneously uncomfortable and joyous when reading a novel. Grossman understands the very worst aspects of my personality and then proceeds to illuminate them so brightly that I don't know whether to giggle or squirm. I spent a lot of my time reading this book doing both.

I first encountered Grossman through an article that he wrote about (of all things!) fanfiction in (of all places!) Time. Time! Who the fuck even reads that magazine any more? And how could it possibly have a single relevant thing to say about fan culture, or indeed any post-1979 phenomenon? I loaded up the page, all ready to roll my eyes at some middle-aged author clutching his pearls at the thought that ladies on the Internet make Harry Potter have sex with Hagrid or whatever. But to my surprise and delight, what I found instead was a thoughtful and affectionate analysis of fandom, which, refreshingly, refused either to point and laugh or to engage in self-righteous apologetic. I was impressed. I put Grossman's novel on my to-read list immediately; I didn't know a single thing about it, but I thought that someone with that amount of insight into fantasy fandom deserved more of my attention.

I tend to avoid any reviews of the books on my to-read list since I prefer to avoid even the mildest of spoilers, but I did acquire one piece of knowledge about The Magicians by the time I got the book: people were describing it as a self-aware fantasy novel, a novel that rejects what TVtropes calls Genre Blindness. You know the sort of thing I mean: nobody in a horror flick has ever seen a horror flick and therefore they all keep blithely wandering into the woods alone; nobody in a zombie movie has ever heard of a zombie and is thus completely unable to think of ways to defeat one; nobody in a modern fantasy novel has any way to conceptualize the strange creature that they've just met, even if it's the most generic Tolkien elf or clichéd vampire ever. I was given to understand that The Magicians was a fantasy novel starring modern characters who have read fantasy novels. They are young men and women who are whisked off to a Hogwarts-style academy to learn magic, but unlike Harry Potter, they've actually read Rowling, and thus can clumsily try to fit their fresh weird experiences into familiar narrative patterns. It's a crazy conceit, and it would be just so easy to turn into a tedious in-joke/wankfest, but Grossman makes it work.

The main reason I think the novel works is that the characters so gloriously fail at aligning their personal stories with the stories they grew up with, finding real magic much messier and less satisfying than it is in children's books. The knowingness of the characters who scoff, "oh, so this is the part of the story we're at now" is constantly sabotaged by a world that is much bigger and more powerful than they are. Their 'quests', such as they are, are intersected and interrupted by their egos and their emotions and, most of all, their postmodernity, which in this novel is not a cute affectation so much as a tragic inability to fully and uncomplicatedly experience anything.

And this brings me to what fucking devastated me about this novel. This is what actually freaked me out. This is what I wasn't ready for. The Magicians is a flawless allegory of graduate school.Collapse )

In obsessing about the subtexts that affected me so deeply, I realize I'm not really talking about the novel itself. It's got a plot (a surprisingly complex one, actually), and the fantasy elements are really creative and interesting and funny, and I think they're worth reading even if you're unconvinced by my analysis.

Quentin had spent very little time in the Brakebills library. Hardly anybody did if they could help it. Visiting scholars had been so aggressive over the centuries in casting locator spells to find the books they wanted, and spells of concealment to hide those same books from rival scholars, that the entire area was more or less opaque to magic [...]

To make matters worse, some of the books had actually become migratory. In the nineteenth century Brakebills had appointed a libararian with a highly Romantic imagination who had envisioned a mobile library in which the books fluttered from shelf to shelf like birds, reorganizing themselves spontaneously under their own power in response to searches. For the first few months the effect was said to have been quite dramatic. [...] But the system turned out to be totally impractical. The wear and tear on the spines alone was too costly, and the books were horribly disobedient. The librarian had imagined he could summon a given book to perch on his hand just by shouting out its call number, but in actuality they were just too willful, and some were actively predatory. The librarian was swiftly deposed, and his successor set about domesticating the books again. But even now there were stragglers, notably in Swiss History and Architecture 300-1399, that stubbornly flapped around near the ceiling.

The characters are wonderful (which is not to say they are always pleasant people), and their relationships rich and deep; I focus on Quentin only because he is the PoV character and we get a unique look at the way his obsessive and unhappy mind works. (In fact, his frequent cluelessness about the suffering of his friends makes them powerfully endearing to the reader: this is a book that cries out for corrective fanfic, and Grossman knows it.) I love the dialogue, which is crass and pompous in equal measure, and zippy and knowing, and basically what I wish I talked like in graduate school. Grossman clearly loves all his characters, even the irritating ones, and watching them banter is exhilarating.

Almost exactly halfway through the novel, Grossman makes a brilliant and troubling metanarratological move, one that really startled me.Collapse )

As I said at the beginning of this post, I think -- actually, I'm pretty sure -- that my visceral response to this book has more to say about me than it does about the book. Some people whose taste I respect hated it, and I think I can see why. But it struck me like a tuning fork, since it seemed to be talking about a particular kind of frustration and alienation that I know all too well, and weaving it into a story that is both mythic and utterly ordinary. Heroism isn't absent in The Magicians, but it's complicated, and that's endlessly interesting to me.


32 revelations ~ carry me from shore to shore
I was on my way to bed last night when icecreamemperor texted me with, "Is it wrong that I hate the narrator of 'Oblivion''s writing style SO MUCH that I don't even care about the end of the story?"

Genuinely confused, I texted back, "It depends if you're talking about the short story or the computer game, but probably no in either case."

ICE clarified that he meant the short story, but that put the idea in my head for a David Foster Wallace / Elder Scrolls mashup for which I am quite obviously going to hell. Terrible pastiche by ICE via text; terrible shoops by me via a slow day at work.

For those of you who don't find that funny, which is to say probably the entire population of the world, here are pictures of two things I bought in Chinatown today.

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22 revelations ~ carry me from shore to shore
Last week my computer got into the habit of shutting down randomly every couple of hours. At first I thought Skyrim was being a buggy piece of shit, because, well, it IS a buggy piece of shit. But eventually I realized that the fact that the computer spontaneously rebooted most often during a Skyrim game was because I was always playing Skyrim and thus I didn't give it a chance to fuck up while running any other programs (which it eventually managed to do, probably while I was furiously refreshing the PC Gamer site to see if there was a new Elder Strolls episode1). It seems my graphics card was overheating; more specifically, the graphics card I bought just so I could play Skyrim was overheating.

So I bought a cooling fan, widening the gap between Skyrim and the next-most-expensive-game-I've-ever-bought by another $20. Except the fan didn't fit in the holes which I TOTALLY MEASURED BEFORE I LEFT FOR THE SHOP, WTF. But that turned out to be fine because the graphics card doesn't fit in the case either, meaning my computer's been going commando for the past couple of months, which fact I'm never really allowed to forget since the cover is always slipping down from the wall where I absentmindedly stashed it and carving up my foot. I wedged the fan in the edges of the case, and it actually looks pretty cozy in there, and I guess there was that one thing where I pointed the blades in the wrong direction -- I thought cold air was supposed to go INTO the machine, to, you know, COOL it, but I have since been schooled by numerous websites about the physics of heat exhaust -- so that one time the computer overheated without even getting so far as to boot. But I fixed that, which was easy since nothing was screwed in and all I had to do was flip the fan around. It's been running great ever since, and it looks pretty badass with all its parts stupidly exposed.

Then, in my neverending quest to stop obsessing about Skyrim so goddamn much, I installed L.A. Noire, which I bought during one of Steam's ridiculous holiday sales. Except L.A. Noire requires Microsoft .NET 3.5, whatever the fuck that is, and installing it is THE MOST COMPLICATED THING IN THE WORLD, which takes hours and NEVER WORKS, and oh God I have run so many utilities from the fucking command prompt that just fill my screen with DOSlike tl;dr that I can't interpret, and I have changed so many settings I've never heard of, and I am not completely ignorant about computers but I am out of my goddamn league here. The error messages from these failed installations have been getting dumped into logfiles that bloat to the point where they (literally) fill my hard drive, which I then proceed to search for text strings that might give me the barest whiff of a clue about what is wrong. I have Googled dozens of numeric error codes that have led me to really hardcore tech blogs where people suggest making changes to my system that I have to Google in turn, because WHY THE FUCK DO I HAVE TO KNOW HOW TO DISABLE ASP.NET AND CHANGE PERMISSIONS ON THE \REFERENCE ASSEMBLIES FOLDER JUST TO PLAY A GAME SET IN THE GODDAMN 1940's. FUCK.

(If you're a Linux/Mac/console fanchild, I don't want to hear it. One rough afternoon isn't going to convert me to your depraved ways.)

I sent a support request to Microsoft (I know, I know, shut up) and if I don't hear back from them, I guess L.A. Noire will surpass Skyrim as the most expensive game I've bought, at least in terms of hours-of-gameplay-to-dollar ratio.

I do need a new game. I've pretty much reached the end of Skyrim: I've saved humanity from the World-Eater, I'm running every organization that's runnable, and I've maxed out every skill that's not completely tedious to use (oh hai Alteration).

My imaginary accomplishments. V. minor spoilers, v. vaguely worded.Collapse )

So yeah, I am pretty sure I qualify as having beaten this game. That was... a pretty intense two months, am I right? I will probably reinstall it in a year or two when I've forgotten everything about it, but I don't see a lot of replay value in it right at the moment. So I guess I'll get back to the game of figuring out how the fuck to install Microsoft .NET 3.5.

And now I'm going to gaze thoughtfully into the middle distance until the credits roll

1 He's up to Episode 6 now but 5 is my favourite because it has kittens.

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38 revelations ~ carry me from shore to shore
The holidays are over, I'm back at work, and thus I'm playing (marginally) less Skyrim. However, I have still managed to play enough Skyrim to have a couple of important updates to share with you.

UPDATE THE FIRST! I have a new follower. IT IS AN KITTEN.

I learned from real life that kittens do a lot of damage.

Why did I get a kitten. Kittens are terrible.Collapse )

UPDATE THE SECOND! I thought my Farkas story was over since I am not actually travelling with him any more. I was already beginning to mourn the loss of Farkas updates to this-here journal, because, um, I like writing them.


So I've got a quest in a ruin called Valthume, which is literally as far from the marital home in Solitude as you can get without closing the Skyrim window and playing Morrowind instead. It's a clear night, and I'm walking under a beautiful purple aurora along a footpath in the Reach.

I notice that there's a fight going on ahead -- I can't see who's beating on whom, but there's the distinctive crackle and flash of magic, so at least one opponent is going to be pretty dangerous. Witches fighting bears? Imperial soldiers fighting hagravens? Forsworn fighting trolls? Odds are good that at least one party in this tussle is going to be neutral or friendly to me, but it's also possible that neither of them are, or that the friendly party will be the losing one and I'm therefore about to get the shit kicked out of me.3

As it happens, though, the fight is already over long before I reach it. It's very dark, so all I can see is the shadow of a couple of humans surrounded by a bunch of humanoid corpses. Probably some Imperial/Stormcloak tussle, then, or...

... wait. Is that...

Is it... ?

Farkas, I... I don't want to sound like I'm not happy to see you, sweetheart, I... I just...

Don't take this the wrong way, sugarplum, but -- er, I'm just going to come out and say this, okay? Farkas, my dear greasy husband, love of my life, what the fuck are you doing out here?

Walking a little further, I see that Farkas is accompanied by two Companions, which is to say the group of mercenaries that he hangs out with in the mead hall called Jorrvaskr (which mead hall has caused no end of marital strife, as regular readers may remember). Baffled, I greet them; they don't even bother to open up dialogue windows, just mumbling hellos as they continue walking on the path. They've just killed a gang of necromancers, whose cooling bodies litter the countryside.

So... what exactly happened here? I imagine Farkas, chopping leeks for a stew, gets a drunk text from Torvar. The following conversation ensues:Collapse )

By the way! Did you notice something odd about the dialogue with Farkas? Did you? Read it again. The offer to make me something to eat no longer appears as a dialogue option, and it hasn't reappeared since this scene. All the other husbandy stuff is still there, including the WTF Store, the Lover's Comfort, and the grunted spouse-only conversation ("Hello, dear"), but he won't cook for me any more. Skyrim's glitches are starting to feel specifically designed to humiliate me.

The icon for this post is courtesy of shikou_mori, who has always understood the importance of pie, even if it is pie baked by assholes. Or not baked, as the case may be.

Footnotes, because I am the sort of person who footnotes a post about text messages from imaginary peopleCollapse )

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38 revelations ~ carry me from shore to shore
So I've become self-conscious about how much Skyrim posting I've been doing -- you are an interesting, vibrant person, I tell myself, surely you have other things to write about. EXCEPT APPARENTLY I AM NOT AND DO NOT.

Seriously though, I kept promising myself that I would get "back" to writing about "important" topics sometime soon. And that every one of my interminable posts about Farkas (oh Farkas!) would be the last. But then three things happened.

First, it seems I've acquired a bunch of new readers? Which... hi? I'm flattered and also a little scared! I am happy to have you folks here but I'm worried that you may have too-high expectations of this journal. What if I am never funny again and you are all disappointed! I will never be able to live with myself! But in the meanwhile, thank you for your kind words and attention.


You can click to make it bigger but it will never be big enough.

AnnotationsCollapse )

Third, I went out for drinks with a couple of friends today and we had an epic conversation about Skyrim that was cheek-achingly hilarious, and we told ridiculous stories about killing Astrid ("wait! there was no rapist! I missed the rapist!"), and using Farkas as a purse, and how awesome a Skyrim/Zoolander crossover would be, and we clinked beer glasses hollering FUS RO DAH!, and oh God it may have been the most dorky conversation I have ever had, but I am still loling and I regret nothing. And if talking about Skyrim brings me such pleasures, my friends, then I will continue to talk about Skyrim, and I will feel only a little bit awkward about it.

I have no screencaps today, I'm afraid -- I mean, I have plenty, I have dozens, but it is nearly midnight and I'm a bit drunk and I don't feel like cropping and gamma-correcting and save-as-ing fucking bitmaps into jpegs just at the moment. So as a consolation prize, here's a collection of extremely juvenile texts about Skyrim that brokenmellcifer and I have exchanged over the past couple of weeks, and which are probably funny only to us.

TEXTS FROM LAST NIGHT, some very minor real spoilers and a couple of huge fake onesCollapse )

P.S. I have been posting about Skyrim often enough that it was beginning to seem pretty clear that I need a Skyrim-themed userpic. But what to choose? I really wanted to iconize the FARKAS SAVES OUR MARRIAGE BY MEANS OF PIE screencap, but if you think it's confusing at full size, just try to make sense of it at 100x100, I dare you. The best I could do was "There's a blurry brownish guy with no eyes standing next to, uh, a sun drawn by a five-year-old." So I decided to go for the next-best representation of our love, which is to say OUR EXPLOSIVE COMFORT, along with its attendant XP bonus. I can already see many, many potential uses for this graphic.

Needless to say, it's important that I have an icon of saltedpin's picture at some point as well, but it is JUST TOO EPIC and I can't bear to edit a single thing out of it, which obv. doesn't translate well to 100x100. I think I'll do just the Farkas bit but it cries out for a caption. I will spend all day at work tomorrow thinking one up. ALL DAY.

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29 revelations ~ carry me from shore to shore
I've been on vacation, which means a lot of Skyrim. Uh, a lot of Skyrim. I can now go toe-to-toe with a blood dragon, solo, without using a single potion; speaking of potions, the potions I craft with Alchemy are now worth so much apiece that no merchants have enough gold on hand to buy them.

But you don't read this blog to learn about the awesome power of the Dragonborn, do you? You want to know how things are going with MY HUSBAND FARKAS.

Well, I have bad news on that front.

Farkas is leaving me to start a band, and this will be his first album cover.

Kidding, kidding! We are still married, though we went through something of a rough patch over the past few days.Collapse )

But everything turned out fine. We're in counselling and I think we're making a lot of progress. He started a "store", which IDEK, there's no storefront or anything, and it's stocked with stuff I gave him. It doesn't seem like he actually sells any of it (all my dragonscales are still there even after I return from a weeks-long Imperial campaign) but somehow he always ends up with extra money. I've stopped asking about it.

Some non-Farkas-related screencaps that made me LOL. Image-heavy. No real spoilers, lots of pointless violence.Collapse )

Incidentally, if you like ridiculous Skyrim stories, you can't go far wrong with the work of Christopher Livingston, who is doing a hysterical series for PC Gamer entitled The Elder Strolls. Livingston's schtick is to live like an NPC -- eating and sleeping on a normal day-night schedule, refusing all quests, ignoring dungeons, and walking everywhere. Even if you don't know or like the game itself, his writing is guaranteed to make you grin -- his heroic attempts to live a boring life are full of surprises. He had a similar project years ago called Livin' in Oblivion, which was much, much funnier than it had any right to be, and I'm glad to see him back on the blogging circuit. Start here.

Until next time!

Why, goodbye to you too, mudcrab!

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70 revelations ~ carry me from shore to shore
wire_mother is here visiting me from very far away! Because I am the worst hostess ever, I made him watch me play Skyrim. By his own admission, the most recent computer game he played was Sid Meier's Pirates!. (He insisted that it's the "new" version, by which he means this game from 2004 as opposed to this game from 1987. However, some idle Googling tells me that these days it can also be played on the iPad, which suggests that the 2004 version, new as it is, may not be the very newest.)

Anyway, my point is that, until this afternoon, wire_mother was unaware of what graphics look like these days.

I don't think they had anything like this in Sid Meier's Pirates!, is what I'm saying.

"So, uh, that mountain. You can, like, walk over to it? And eventually go inside that building on it right there?"
"Sure! Everything in the whole world is walkable! Let's go right now! OHSHITADRAGON------"

But that's a story for another day. The story I wanted to tell today was the story about marrying my true love, Farkas the greasy spoilerCollapse ). I like how getting married is not even a MAIN QUEST. It is a MISCELLANEOUS QUEST.

Right up there with "Talk to Maven about Vald's debt"

Would you like to hear about my imaginary wedding?


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14 revelations ~ carry me from shore to shore
I fell out of love with Skyrim for an evening when I encountered a nasty, quest-breaking bug that threatened to wipe out more than 20 hours of gameplay (according to my savegame tally, which probably means more like 30 hours in actual at-the-computer time given all the neurotic saving-and-restoring I do). I texted brokenmellcifer angrily saying I HATE SKYRIM AND WILL NEVER PLAY IT AGAIN and yelled at her whenever she tried to remind me that there were nice things about it that I once enjoyed.

But all is well! Frantic Googling led me to a workaround that required a lot of fast-travel and console commands and tinkering with quest order, and the first dozen times it didn't work but then one time it DID, and I have (touch wood) overcome the bugged quest and gone on on my merry way without needing to restore a week-old save game.


I'd marry the girl if I could (how hot is that warpaint) but Nords are not big on gay marriage :(
EDIT: THEY TOTALLY ARE, on which see comments

After the elaborate, drama-laden, soap-opera-ish courtship rituals of Dragon Age, Skyrim is refreshingly blunt in its approach to romancing. Some priestess somewhere told me that the way you signal romantic interest is to wear an amulet of Mara, a love goddess. "WHAT, YOU THINK I CAN'T BE HAPPY AS A SINGLE WOMAN?" I asked the game indignantly. "I AM THE FUCKING DRAGONBORN. I HAVE A CAREER HERE." So I steadfastly refused to wear the amulet, whose combat bonus is useless anyway.


If you are not moved by the beauty of that love story, your heart must be made of stone. But that's okay, because I have something for you stone-hearts, too! Namely, this EPIC FIGHT BETWEEN A DRAGON AND THREE BEARS.

If you don't click to make this bigger AND THEN MAKE IT YOUR DESKTOP WALLPAPER you will regret it

IS THAT NOT THE MOST INCREDIBLE THING YOU'VE EVER SEEN. (Not least because the bears won. And very very nearly killed me afterward.)

I've been fighting a lot of dragons lately, which strikes me as sort of weird because if I'm the Dragonborn and have an instinctive understanding of dragon language etc. etc. etc. shouldn't I be able to join their side? I'd much rather ride around on dragons torching villages than rummage through old tombs finding rusted weapons for sleazy Jarls, and also the dragons' voice-acting is better.

Aw, man, I want to be able to crouch on the sides of buildings like that.

I'm not quite high-enough level to solo a dragon, but if a couple town guards draw fire help me out I can generally take one down pretty handily. Once, during a particularly tough fight, I used a "Call To Arms" scroll, which gives allies improved combat stats for ten real-time minutes. Except somehow I managed to catch this chicken in the spell radius:

As you can tell by the halo of blue light



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27 revelations ~ carry me from shore to shore
According to Steam, I have spent 39.6 hours between late Thursday night and now playing Skyrim, the fifth of the Elder Scrolls series of games -- which series, if I may indulge in some grognard nostalgia for a moment, I've been playing since Arena came out in 1994. (Ahahaha OMG look at those graphics.)

In case you don't want to do the math, 39.6 hours since Friday comes to, uh, basically a full work-week of game-playing in the space of, uh, six days. I wish I could tell you that several hours out of that 39.6 were recorded while the computer was idling and I was doing other stuff, but if I were to tell you that I would need an extinguisher for my pants.

It helps, too, that Valetura is hot as all get-out. AM I RIGHT?

I was pretty skeptical of the hype around Skyrim, since I kind of hated its predecessor, which was called Oblivion. Oblivion was gorgeous to look at, with breathtaking environments and landscapes, but the quests were fucking idiotic and the voice-acting was terrible and the plot was mostly pointless and, probably worst of all, the UI was legendary in its jerk-you-out-of-the-game cheap-console-port awkwardness. I found it frustrating and exhausting to play, and tended to be short-tempered with its many fans. The flaws in Oblivion were particularly galling since its predecessor, Morrowind, was (and remains) in my top-five favourite games of all time; the graphics were a bit more primitive (aw, who am I kidding, a lot more primitive), but the game felt much less goofy and ham-handed and allowed for a lot more freedom in play styles. Eventually I turned my frustration with Oblivion into a crusade against PRETTY BUT STUPID GAMES, and since Oblivion was like the world's hugest bestseller and everybody in the whole fucking world except me loved it like a firstborn, I figured that Skyrim would resemble it in all the worst ways because being PRETTY BUT STUPID is good for sales, etc.

I was right to be skeptical, in a way: it turns out that Skyrim's voice-acting is perhaps even worse than Oblivion's, and since it's set in a northern territory, the actors all appear to have been instructed to imitate Dr. Henry Killinger's impression of Arnold Schwarzenegger's lovechild by the Swedish Chef, or something. (At least they have more than five actors this time, which is progress.) And the interface... oh God the interface is beyond broken; for a detailed review read here, but the short version is that the designers hard-coded pretty much every keyboard command, which makes customization awkward and buggy as fuck. This makes it hard for left-handed people, or really for anyone who isn't eternally devoted to one designer's very very specific idea of what keys you should use for each fucking thing on a PC game forever.


Click for bigger, because bigger is AMAZING.

I kind of hate myself for having become the sort of shallow gamer who can overlook a stupid game's stupidities just because it's beautiful. In my defense, Skyrim's fixed a lot of the things that were busted in Oblivion -- the combat is much more interesting and less frustrating, and the skill system is one of the coolest I've seen, which is great because Oblivion's was literally nonsensical. (In Oblivion, you needed to choose the skills you were worst at as your primary skills, or else you'd level up too fast and be unable to develop any other skills. Just... who came up with this?)

And like all the Elder Scrolls games, Skyrim lets you just fuck around and ignore quests if you want. This is the most sandboxy of sandbox series this side of Dwarf Fortress, and I love that. You can pick tomatoes or melt down ore or rearrange the bookshelves in your house or eat bugs or, hell, even grind grain into flour if that's what you're into.

Chop wood, carry water. The chicken, having already achieved nirvana, is not impressed.

Screencaps really don't do it justice, since so much of the beauty and wonder is in the animation -- the gurgling water, the bounding deer, the blinding snow during a blizzard, the passing shadow and accompanying whoooooosh of a dragon's wings overhead. It's the closest thing I've seen in a computer game to living in a movie, and, all the wooden writing and shitty interface design aside, it is fucking glorious.

Be that as it may, I'll show you some screencaps anyway. No plot spoilers, but if you"re really into the thrill of discovery you may not want to click.Collapse )


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44 revelations ~ carry me from shore to shore