Random Thoughts on Avengers: Age of Ultron

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I had the opportunity to watch Avengers: Age of Ultron last night, a whole four hours before it was officially supposed to be released.  I know, I know, it’s galling, such a thing.  Releasing movies early ranks among the level of software pirates, parking meter tricksters, and spree murderers on the scale of ethical lapses.  As you all know, I am a just and righteous man, so I was just going to stay home.  Unfortunately, I hang out with the wrong crowd, and my so-called friends kidnapped me and forced me to watch it.  How vile!  I am absolutely aghast that they would force me to counteract my morals like that.

But, while I’m at it, I figured I’d at least put my thoughts down on the film.  Not so much a review, no, with a film release this big, you can get those anywhere, and I like to think that people come to Lost to the Aether for something a bit different.  And also, they come here because I am so smart, handsome, and interesting.  Anyways, if you want the bottom line, I enjoyed it a little less than I did the first film, but it’s still a good movie.  Beyond that, well, here are some completely random and unconnected reflections I have on the movie.

  • So, a big change in the way the film delivers its story, whereas the first movie was all about the individuals coming together as a group, then the big, bad, world invasion, the second film breaks things down to a human level.  It’s more about how each character is as a human.  The first act sees a good amount of the team just goofing around with each other.  It’s a film about personalities, rather than the group as a cohesive whole.  The central conflict comes about because of a few character’s personal choices, the film goes out of its way to round out some of the characters who haven’t gotten much spotlight on them, and everyone gets their little moments to let their guard down and show who they are.  It’s a more human-level experience, that I think really works for the sequel.
  • Unfortunately, this is tempered by the characters still being really flat.  I think that just comes from the age we’re in.  Big budget films need international markets to find success, and deep, complex characters are a lot more difficult to effectively translate between languages and cultures.  Still makes for a worse experience overall, no matter how necessary it is.
  • Hawkeye has himself a long-term relationship.  I’m pretty sure that only came about to remove him as a candidate for Black Widow, after all the teases in the first film.
  • Instead, Widow’s with the Hulk.  I never bought their relationship.  Their actors are really lacking in chemistry.
  • For that matter, I don’t really jive with the way they handled the Black Widow in this film.  The past movies she’s been in, like the Winter Soldier, Iron Man 2, the First Avenger, she really added to it.  She had her own unique part in the conflict, she dealt with things in a unique way, and she actively contributed to the plot.  Moreover, she was distinct.  Irreplaceable.  In this film, Black Widow’s just here to be the woman.  She has two scenes offering some brief glimpses into her backstory, sure, but other than that, her point in the movie is the play the traditional feminine roles.  She’s the matching girlfriend, the emotional support, and the damsel in distress.  Her character has degenerated.  She was once a distinct figure in her own right, now she’s just the Smurfette of the crew.
  • I’ve never read an Ultron story.  I have no idea what his personality’s like.  I’m pretty sure it’s not like this.  But that’s not a bad thing.  It would have been pretty easy to have him be the big generic death robot.  Having him like evil Iron Man adds a bit more to the character.
  • I don’t think you can call something an ‘Age’ when it’s pretty much wrapped up within the week or so this film covers.
  • There’s deaths in the film.  I won’t say who or when or how, but yeah, people die.  The movie gets absolutely no mileage out of it.
  • And you know, I never thought I’d be complaining about this, but I think I’m just getting tired of the Whedonistic snark.  It’s all nice and funny when you sprinkle the dialogue with clever quips.  When everyone’s doing it, and they do it anytime anyone does anything?  It gets a little old.
  • The creators did some nice work in building some leads for future movies.  And not just the next Avengers, either.  I’m pretty sure we saw the creation of a villain for the upcoming Black Panther, for instance, and I didn’t even notice until I slept on it.

And, that’s about all I got right now.  ‘Till next time.

New Eden, Page 19: The Calm Before the Storm

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So, the game in New Eden, this virtual reality everyone’s a part of, is pretty much a virtual reality MMORPG with a bit of Minecraft mixed in.  I’ve probably spent less than 10 hours playing traditional MMORPGs in my life, total.  And I kind of like the creative process that why.  I’m probably not going to create something that’s immediately recognizable, given my inexperience with the medium, but as a result, the setting, or at least this game, will be a lot more unique than if I tried to make a generic MMORPG with complete knowledge of the form, and hopefully, more interesting because of it.

I’ve got a lot of experience with MUDs, text-based MMO-style adventures, and that’s what I’ve largely been basing the game off of.  I have no idea if most MMORPGs will let you pull up a list of currently online players, like LadyHate mentioned last post, but that was a pretty common feature to MUDs, so in it goes.

Transcript

Panel 1

LadyHate: Agla?

LadyHate: Run?

LadyHate: What happened to Annie?

Panel 2

LadyHate: What the…?

LadyHate: Rain?

Panel 3

LadyHate: It’s never rained in-game before.

Panel 4

LadyHate: Clouds, too?

LadyHate: Annie, are you…

LadyHate:!!

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Flavor Matters

With most creative works, whether video games, books, movies, whatever, it’s often the little touches that really make the whole experience.  You can have a great plot, excellent gameplay, perfect cinematography, whatever, but if you ignore the tone, atmosphere, visual details, continuity, all those small details, it’s going to drag your whole work down.

From a creation standpoint, it’s really easy to forget that.  It’s just habit to try to direct the audience’s focus wherever most of the creator’s efforts are going.  After all, I just delivered this big shiny fight scene with such vibrant imagery!  Did you see the way Brick Stronggroin just shot that guy’s head into the air where it exploded like an Independence Day firecracker, before he stagedived into the Sea of Tits?!  That’s high art!  I should be showered with awards!  So what if the costumes are not really appropriate for the tone of this work, or the soundtrack at this part is all bloopy reggae jams?   Who cares if I had previously established that Brick hated explosions of all sorts owing to the death of his entire home planet in a freak explosion accident?

The thing is, creators experience a work differently than consumers do.  Creators, even when going back and reviewing their own creations, tend to look at it piece by piece, breaking it down by its components, and naturally giving more importance to the little bits they spent more effort on.  So it’s easy for creators to forget the impact of all the little touches, such as internal consistency, the atmosphere they’ve built, continuity, and all that jazz.  All those little pieces combine to form the flavor of the work.  For consumers, who, unlike the creators, usually view a work as a whole, more concerned with how well the parts work together than the quality of each individual bit, flavor is generally just as important as every other component.  Flavor matters.

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A great example of that comes in Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel.  There is a game that is just reviled.  It’s hard to find anywhere that has anything good to say about it.  Fallout fans are absolutely disgusted by its existence, even nonfans have soundly marked it as decently below average, and its sales were incredibly low and likely a large contributing factor to Interplay’s bankruptcy.  Perhaps most damning, the owners of the Fallout franchise has determined it completely non-canon, in spite of the fact that it seems to have fewer plot inconsistencies than Fallout Tactics, its fellow side game.

I played Brotherhood of Steel recently.  If you take the flavor out of the equation, this is a decidedly average game.  The gameplay is uninspired but doesn’t have many major flaws, the visuals are functional, the controls are tight enough, and the plot at least makes sense.  Compared to its contemporaries, the game at least hit par.  Without the flavor, it doesn’t nearly deserve the heaps of scorn it’s gotten, and it’s probably worth at least a few points more than reviewers have been giving it.

Yet, even so, the game is rightfully remembered as downright foul.  And it all comes down to flavor.  The flavor in this game is so bad it drastically impacts ones enjoyment of the game.

For the Fallout fans, the flavor inconsistencies are obvious, even as the plot roughly matched up.  Fallout is almost defined by its retrofuturist aesthetic.  Everything is built around the 1950’s idea of science fiction.  And yet, in Brotherhood of Steel, the characters look as if they walked out of the pages of Heavy Metal magazine, the soundtrack was a decidedly modern roll of droning metal, and the game featured product placement from a brand that didn’t even exist until the late 90s.  Even ignoring the other games in the Fallout series, the flavor was wildly inconsistent in its own right.  Matching the 50’s aesthetic with all the features mentioned above just creates a level of cognitive dissonance that’s absolutely baffling.  Moreover, the game swears so much the English language itself starts losing any meaning, the soundtrack is flatout bad, even without the dissonance, and the visual design is flatly uninspired.  The game is bad.  And it’s bad because of its flavor.  It’s bad because this one link in the otherwise average chain is so very, very poor.

It’s easy to go too far with this.  I think everyone can remember finding some discussion somewhere where one consumer placed flavor so far above everything else in terms of importance that the slightest inconsistency absolutely shattered their suspension of disbelief and their enjoyment of the piece as a whole.  Even so, flavor matters.  Flavor is an important component of enjoying a work, and it’s not one that can go ignored.

Digging Deep in Dark Souls

Last Time on Deftly Dominating Dark Souls, we drained a drowning pool. It wasn’t pleasant.

What do you say we finish up and get out of here as soon as possible?

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Seriously, so many corpses, all over the place. This area’s depressing me. I just want to finish up as soon as possible. I head into this shack up the stairs.

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I spot a darkwraith casually walking forward, into the other side of the shack. I don’t think he’s spotted me. I park myself to the side of the entry way, and wind up for a stronger attack, a powerful forward lunge. It does significantly more damage than my usual slash, but it takes a bit more time to prep for it. It’s not so useful in the midst of combat, but now, when I have the drop on the enemy? The perfect time.

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Well, in other circumstances, it’d be the perfect time. I underestimated him. On two levels. My thrust is not quite enough to kill him in a single blow, but it leaves me way open as I pull my weapon back. Then, he busts out a combo I wouldn’t have guessed he’d have, slashing me for times in the second it takes me to recover from my own attack. Dude is fast. Naturally, that’s more than I can bear, and I fall before him.

So, waaaaay back to the beginning for me.

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Diving into in Dark Souls

Last time, in Don’t Die in Dark Souls, I died. I died hard, too. So hard that I didn’t even have time to grab a screenshot of it. It turns out that being able to cut through hundreds of opponents with less resistance than than a hurricane through tissue paper kind of got to my head, when really, it was only building up a pedestal so that I’d have farther to fall.

Now that I know the area, I try to rush back to where I fell. My supplies of these transient curses, that I need to put up a defense against these ghosts in the first place, are limited, so I want to make it there while still under the influence of the first one I consumed. That proves to be a humbling experience. These guys, that I was beating so effortlessly before? Yeah, that was only because I was cautious the first time around, taking them on a few at a time before any of them could make a move. Now that my confidence is bolstered, I do my best to rush through them.

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Turns out they’re a little tougher when they can gang up on you. They still don’t do much damage, but they’re able to overwhelm me nonetheless. I don’t die, but I come closer than I’d like. When I regain my feet, I roll out of the middle of these guys, and dissipate them with a few quick strikes. This was a wake up call for me. I resume my careful pace moving forward.

I end up back in the elevated walkways just before where I died last time. There were a number of ghosts here, attacking through the ceiling and floor, last time I went through. I admired their tactics then.

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Well, I found a ladder now, that allows me to completely subvert them.

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Case in point, here’s a lurking ghost, just waiting for me to walk overhead into his eager knives. Unfortunately, he’s paying attention to the above walkway, and doesn’t notice me down here. I teach him the error of his ways. I dispatch another ghost in a similar manner, then return to the upper walkway and continue my path forward, unmolested.

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Here’s where I fell to my death last entry. Just like the previous time, two ghosts emerge from the water, one by one, as I approach. These ones are tricky, able to clip through the ground and come at me at a low angle that’s difficult to strike at. If I back off, to give myself more space, they retreat, hovering beyond the edge of this walkway. This is going to take a careful hand.

Last time, I misjudged the distance between the ghost and the ledge, and overextended myself, sending me hurtling off. I’m paying more attention now, but even so, I almost do the same here. I catch myself with one foot before I fall. I’ll have to be more careful.

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The second ghost, I arrow him to death. Or undeath. Redeath. Whatever. He actually takes a few hits, enough to give him time to close the distance. He gets off one strike, but no more.

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New Eden: Page 18, Life is Hard edition

No time, just postin’. New Eden Page 18

Transcript

Panel 1

AGLA:So, I’ve got a plan for this game.

AGLA: That’s why I’ve sent each of the Midknights a set with one of these premade characters.

AGLA: I don’t have time to explain now, but find Olympus.

AGLA: He’s in the game, and he knows the plan.  He can fill you in.

Panel 2

LadyHate: Olympus is playing?  Yay!

LadyHate: Between the four of us, I’m sure we can convince everyone to play.

LadyHate: But… I’ve never seen him on the player list.

AGLA: Yeah, he doesn’t show up there.  You’ll have to find him the hard way.

AGLA: I’m pretty sure he’s the only giant in the game, so keep an eye out for him.

AGLA: Anyways, the favor. A

GLA: I’ll need you to do this when you get your set too, Hate.  Anke…

Lorelei: Can this wait for tomorrow?  I really have to get to bed.

AGLA: The sooner the better.  This’ll just take a minute.

Lorelei: Fine.

AGLA: Ok!  To start, can you open your menu?

Panel 3

Lorelei: Menu? Lorelei: How do I…

Lorelei: Oh.  I guess that’s it.

Panel 4

AGLA: Good.

AGLA: Now, do you see your Creation Aspect at the bottom?

Lorelei: Yes.

AGLA: Could you select it?

Panel 5

LadyHate: So…

LadyHate: What happens next?

Panel 6

LadyHate: AGLA?

LadyHate: Annie?

LadyHate: Are you ok, Annie?

AGLA: Hattie, I suggest you run.

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The Persona 2: Innocent Sin Retrospective, Part 4-Plot and Themes

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Part 1-Introduction

Part 2-Gameplay

Part 3-Setting and Tone

Plot

So, plots have always been more important in RPGs than in most other genres. If you’re going to be dragging the player around for like forty hours, if you’re going to be making them read a light novel’s worth of text, you got to have something going on to provide sufficient drive for all that. The Persona series in particular is known for being the more plot-focused branch of the whole Megaten franchise. So how does Innocent Sin stack up? Well, it’s got some growing pains, but you know, it’s still making a lot of steps in the right direction, and it’s definitely worth the experience. Namely, Innocent Sin uses something that you don’t see too often in video game storytelling, and that I raved about last time in the tone section. It has some subtlety to its storytelling. It doesn’t present everything up front, you’ve got to absorb and consider to get the full picture. Granted, the amount of actual depth there is pretty limited, but hey, for a PS1 era RPG released when everyone else was scrambling to catch up in the wake of the Final Fantasy VII bombshell, it does pretty well for itself.

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The plot in Revelations: Persona was pretty lacking. It was certainly there, but didn’t really aspire for more than to be a simple justification for the gameplay. Well, the Persona 2 duology has a lot more going on. Not only does the plot have some degree of focus in this game, but it actually goes back and makes the Persona 1 plot retroactively better. It’s Eternal Punishment, the second game of the duology, that relates more to Persona 1, but Innocent Sin still sets the groundwork for it. Namely, it makes Nyarlathotep, who you may remember as being one of the bad guy’s persona from the first game into his own separate entity, a master manipulator and the main villain behind this game. As it turns out, the last game was just part of a greater contest between him and Philemon regarding the whole destiny of mankind. They’ve taken the rather shallow conflict of last game and added a bit of depth by tying it into something greater. A really smooth way of handling it, in all. The plot here ties the series more closely to Jungian psychology than the original game had managed to. Of course, there’s the titular personae making themselves apparent, but the game also introduces the elements of shadows, those parts of yourself that you don’t want to acknowledge, and the idea of the collective unconscious, one of the more major tenants of Jungian psychology. The collective unconscious drives most of the game, in fact, giving rise to both your ultimate enemy and your most powerful ally, as well as granting rumors their reality-warping power.

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The narrative generally takes place over three phases. Or acts, if you’d like to fit it into the traditional structure. All of them are mostly conflict-driven. In other words, the plot’s drive works like almost every other game you’ve played before. The first starts off mostly down to earth, introducing you to your characters and setting up the conflict with the Joker, the cell-phone based wish granting genie that’s pissed off at you personally for something you don’t even know you did. Essentially, the first act is focused on building you into that world and your characters, and most of the conflicts are pretty interpersonal ones centered on relatively familiar locations. Your main is at the center of the first act’s plot, although each of the other characters get their own moments of focus. In the second act, Joker starts up the Masked Circle, a group of terrorists who serve as an analog to your own party. There, the conflict starts to expand a bit, as the Masked Circle are attacking the general public within Sumaru City, but thanks to them being largely focused on fighting you, and them being built of members that correspond to your own, it’s still a very small, personally-scaled conflict. Here’s where the idea of the global-destruction gets built, although it doesn’t really pay off with the Masked Circle. Your main, thanks in large part to being the silent lead, starts taking more of a backseat during this section, and the other members of your party end up leading more of the general happenings. And then come the Nazi’s. As often happens when they get involved, things blow up from there. The consequences finally hit the grand scale the SMT series is known for, with the Last Battalion and the Masked Circle duking it out over who’s going to rise as gods over the freshly devastated Earth. The character focus at this point shifts pretty squarely from the traditional members of your party to Jun Kurosu, the new member to join your squad in the final act. One thing to note here is that due to Innocent Sin being the first part of a duology, while most of the individual plot threads do end up wrapped up by the end, the overarching plot only just gets started here. You still end up creaming most of your major opponents and leave both the Masked Circle and the Nazis on the ropes, but you don’t beat all of them, and the game ends on a massive cliffhanger leading into Eternal Punishment. As for how the next game handles the lead, well, we’ll talk about that next time around.

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